Life of Adam Smith
by John Rae
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The last year of Smith's residence in London was overcast by growing anxiety about the condition of his friend Hume, who had always enjoyed fairly good health till the beginning of the year 1775, and then seemed to fall rapidly away. As Smith said one evening at Lord Shelburne's to Dr. Price, who asked him about Hume's health, it seemed as if Hume was one of those persons who after a certain time of life go down not gradually but by jumps.[241] Under those circumstances Smith had determined as soon as his new book was out to go down to Edinburgh and if possible persuade Hume to come back with him to London, to try the effect of change of scene and a little wholesome diversion. But, bad correspondent that he was, he appears to have left Hume to gather his intentions from the reports of friends, and consequently received from Hume the following remonstrance a few weeks before the publication of his work:—

EDINBURGH, 8th February, 1776.

DEAR SMITH—I am as lazy a correspondent as you, but my anxiety about you makes me write.

By all accounts your book has been printed long ago, yet it has never yet been so much as advertised. What is the reason? If you wait till the fate of Bavaria be decided you may wait long.

By all accounts you intend to settle with us this spring, yet we hear no more of it. What is the reason? Your chamber in my house is always unengaged; I am always at home; I expect you to land here.

I have been, am, and shall be probably in an indifferent state of health. I weighed myself t'other day, and find I have fallen five compleat stones. If you delay much longer I shall probably disappear altogether.

The Duke of Buccleugh tells me that you are very zealous in American affairs. My notion is that this matter is not so important as is commonly imagined. If I be mistaken I shall probably correct my error when I see you or read you. For navigation and general commerce may suffer more than our manufactures. Should London fall as much in its size as I have done it will be the better. It is nothing but a Hulk of bad and unclean Humours.[242]

The American question was of course the great question of the hour, for the Colonies were already a year in active rebellion, and they issued their declaration of independence but a few months later. Smith followed the struggle, as we see from many evidences in the concluding portion of the Wealth of Nations, with the most patriotic interest and anxiety, and having long made a special study of the whole problem of colonial administration, had arrived at the most decided opinions not only on the rights and wrongs of the particular quarrel then at issue, but on the general policy it was requisite to adopt in the government of dependencies. Hume was in favour of separation, because he believed separation to be inevitable sooner or later in the ordinary course of nature, like the separation of the fruit from the tree or the child from the parent. But Smith, shunning all such misleading metaphors, held that there need never be any occasion for separation as long as mother country and dependency were wise enough to keep together, and that the sound policy to adopt was really the policy of closer union—of imperial federation, as we should now call it. He would not say, "Perish dependencies," but "Incorporate them." He would treat a colony as but a natural expansion of the territory of the kingdom, and have its inhabitants enjoy the same rights and bear the same burdens as other citizens. He did not think it wrong to tax the Colonies; on the contrary, he would make them pay every tax the inhabitants of Great Britain had to pay; but he thought it wrong to put restrictions on their commerce from which the commerce of Great Britain was free, and he thought it wrong to tax them for imperial purposes without giving them representation in the Imperial Parliament—full and equal representation, "bearing the same proportion to the produce of their taxes as the representation of Great Britain might bear to the produce of the taxes levied upon Great Britain." The union he contemplated was to be more than federal; it was to preclude home rule by local assemblies; it was to be like the union which had been established with Scotland, and which he strongly desired to see established with Ireland; and the Imperial Parliament in London was to make laws for the local affairs of the provinces across the Atlantic exactly as it made laws for the local affairs of the province across the Tweed. He shrank from none of the consequences of his scheme, admitting even that when the Colonies grew in population and wealth, as grow they must, till the real centre of empire changed, the time would then arrive when the American members of the Imperial Parliament would far outnumber the British, and the seat of Parliament itself would require to be transferred from London to some Constantinople on the other side of the Atlantic.

He was quite sensible that this scheme of his would be thought wild and called a "new Utopia," but he was not one of those who counted the old Utopia of Sir Thomas More to be either useless or chimerical, and he says that this Utopia of his own is "no more useless or chimerical than the old one." The difficulties it would encounter came, he says, "not from the nature of things, but from the prejudices and opinions of the people both on this and on the other side of the Atlantic." He held, moreover, very strongly that a union of this kind was the only means of making the Colonies a useful factor instead of a showy and expensive appendage of the empire, and the only alternative that could really prevent their total separation from Great Britain. He pleaded for union, too, not merely for the salvation of the Colonies to the mother country, but even more for the salvation of the Colonies to themselves. Separation merely meant mediocrity for Great Britain, but for the Colonies it meant ruin. There would no longer be any check on the spirit of rancorous and virulent faction which was always inseparable from small democracies. The coercive power of the mother country had hitherto prevented the colonial factions from breaking out into anything worse than brutality and insult, but if that coercive power were entirely taken away they would probably soon break out into open violence and bloodshed.[243]

The event has falsified the last anticipation, but this is not the place to criticise Smith's scheme. It was only requisite to recall for a moment the ideas which, according to the Duke of Buccleugh's statement to Hume, Smith was at this time so zealously working for in the important circles in which he then moved in London.


[229] Hume MSS., R.S.E. Library.

[230] Add. MSS., 32,336. It must have been during this period that Smith entertained Reynolds at dinner at Mrs. Hill's, Dartmouth Street, Westminster, on Sunday 11th March, and not, as Mr. Tom Taylor places it, in 1764, from finding the dinner engagement noted on "a tiny old-fashioned card bearing the name of 'Mr. Adam Smith'" lying in one of Reynolds' pocket-books for 1764. In March 1764 Smith, as we know, was in France, and Mr. Taylor must have mistaken the year for 1774, unless, indeed, it may have been 1767.

[231] Walpole's Letters, vi. 302.

[232] Watson's Annals of Philadelphia, i. 533.

[233] See above, pp. 256-7.

[234] Parton's Life of Franklin, i. 537.

[235] Hume MSS., R.S.E. Library.

[236] Playfair's edition of Wealth of Nations, I. xiii.

[237] Clayden's Early Life of Samuel Rogers, p. 168.

[238] Works, v. 519.

[239] Taylor's Records of my Life, ii. 262.

[240] Thomson's Life of Cullen, i. 481.

[241] Notes of S. Rogers' Conversation. Add. MSS., 32, 571.

[242] Burton's Life of Hume, ii. 483.

[243] Wealth of Nations, Book V. chap. iii.



1776. Aet. 52

The Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations was at length published on the 9th of March 1776. Bishop Horne, one of Smith's antagonists, of whom we shall presently hear more, said the books which live longest are those which have been carried longest in the womb of the parent. The Wealth of Nations took twelve years to write, and was in contemplation for probably twelve years before that. It was explicitly and publicly promised in 1759, in the concluding paragraph of the Theory of Moral Sentiments, though it is only the partial fulfilment of that promise.

The promise is: "I shall in another discourse endeavour to give an account of the general principles of law and government, and of the different revolutions they have undergone in the different ages and periods of society, not only in what concerns justice, but in what concerns policy revenue and arms, and whatever else is the object of law." In speaking of this promise in the preface of the sixth edition of the Theory in 1790, Smith says, "In the Inquiry concerning the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations I have partially executed this promise, at least so far as concerns policy revenue and arms." Now doubtless when Smith began writing his book in Toulouse he began it on the large plan originally in contemplation, and some part of the long delay that took place in its composition is probably to be explained by the fact that he would have possibly been a considerable time at work before he determined to break his book in two, and push on meanwhile with the section on policy revenue and arms, leaving to a separate publication in the future his discussion of the theory of jurisprudence.

The work was published in two vols. 4to, at the price of L1:16s. in boards, and the author uses this time all his honours on the title-page, describing himself as Adam Smith, LL.D. and F.R.S., formerly Professor of Moral Philosophy in the University of Glasgow. What was the extent of this edition, or the terms, as between author and publisher, on which it was put out, is not exactly known. The terms were not half-profits, for that arrangement is proposed by Smith for the second edition as if it were a new one, and is accepted in the same way by Strahan, who in a letter which I shall presently quote, pronounces it a "very fair" proposal, "and therefore very agreeable to Mr. Cadell and me"; nor was it printed for the author, for the presentation copies he gave away were deducted from the copy money he received. On the whole, it seems most probable that the book was purchased from him for a definite sum, and as he mentions in his letter of the 13th November 1776 that he had received, L300 of his money at that time, and had still a balance owing to him, one may reasonably conjecture that the full sum was L500—the same sum Cadell's firm had paid for the last economic work they had undertaken, Sir James Steuart's Inquiry into the Principles of Political Economy.

The book sold well. The first edition, of whose extent, however, we are ignorant, was exhausted in six months, and the sale was from the first better than the publishers expected, for on the 12th of April, when it had only been a month out, Strahan takes notice of a remark of David Hume that Smith's book required too much thought to be as popular as Gibbon's, and states, "What you say of Mr. Gibbon's and Dr. Smith's book is exactly just. The former is the most popular work; but the sale of the latter, though not near so rapid, has been more than I could have expected from a work that requires much thought and reflection (qualities that do not abound among modern readers) to peruse to any purpose."[244] The sale is the more remarkable because it was scarce to any degree helped on by reviews, favourable or otherwise. The book was not noticed at all, for example, in the Gentleman's Magazine, and it was allowed only two pages in the Annual Register, while in the same number Watson's History of Philip got sixteen. This review of the book, however, was probably written by Burke.

Smith speaks in one of his letters to Strahan of having distributed numerous presentation copies. One of the first of these was of course sent to his old friend David Hume, and that copy, by the way, with its inscription, probably still exists, having been possessed for a time by the late Mr. Babbage. Hume acknowledged receipt of it in the following letter, which shows among other things that not even Hume had seen the manuscript of the book before publication:—

EDINBURGH, 1st April 1776.

EUGE! BELLE! DEAR MR. SMITH—I am much pleased with your performance, and the perusal of it has taken me from a state of great anxiety. It was a work of so much expectation, by yourself, by your friends, and by the public, that I trembled for its appearance, but am now much relieved. Not but that the reading of it necessarily requires so much attention, and the public is disposed to give so little that I shall still doubt for some time of its being at first very popular, but it has depth and solidity and acuteness, and is so much illustrated by curious facts that it must at last attract the public attention. It is probably much improved by your last abode in London. If you were here at my fireside, I should dispute some of your principles. I cannot think that the rent of farms makes any part of the price of the produce, but that the price is determined altogether by the quantity and the demand. It appears to me impossible that the King of France can take a seignorage of 8 per cent upon the coinage. Nobody would bring bullion to the mint, it would be all sent to Holland or England, where it might be coined and sent back to France for less than 2 per cent. Accordingly Necker says that the French king takes only 2 per cent of seignorage. But these and a hundred other points are fit only to be discussed in conversation, which till you tell me the contrary I still flatter myself with soon. I hope it will be soon, for I am in a very bad state of health and cannot afford a long delay. I fancy you are acquainted with Mr. Gibbon. I like his performance extremely, and have ventured to tell him that had I not been personally acquainted with him I should never have expected such an excellent work from the pen of an Englishman. It is lamentable to consider how much that nation has declined in literature during our time. I hope he did not take amiss this national reflection.

All your friends here are in deep grief at present for the death of Baron Mure, which is an irreparable loss to our society. He was among the oldest and best friends I had in the world.[245]

On the same day as Hume wrote this letter from Edinburgh, Gibbon wrote from London to Adam Ferguson and said among other things, "What an excellent work is that with which our common friend Mr. Adam Smith has enriched the public! An extensive science in a single book, and the most profound ideas expressed in the most perspicuous language. He proposes visiting you very soon, and I find he means to exert his most strenuous endeavours to persuade Mr. Hume to return with him to town. I am sorry to hear that the health and spirits of that truly great man are in a less favourable state than his friends could wish, and I am sure you will join your efforts in convincing him of the benefits of exercise, dissipation, and change of air."

Some of Smith's personal friends seem to have entertained the common prejudice that a good work on commerce could not be reasonably expected from a man who had never been engaged in any branch of practical business, and seemed in outward air and appearance so ill fitted to succeed in such a line of business if he had engaged in it. One of these was Sir John Pringle, President of the Royal Society, and formerly, like Smith himself, Professor of Moral Philosophy at a Scotch university. When the Wealth of Nations appeared Sir John Pringle remarked to Boswell that Smith, having never been in trade, could not be expected to write well on that subject any more than a lawyer upon physic, and Boswell repeated the remark to Johnson, who at once, however, sent it to the winds. "He is mistaken, sir," said the Doctor; "a man who has never been engaged in trade himself may undoubtedly write well upon trade, and there is nothing that requires more to be illustrated by philosophy than does trade. As to mere wealth—that is to say, money—it is clear that one nation or one individual cannot increase its store but by making another poorer; but trade procures what is more valuable, the reciprocation of the peculiar advantages of different countries. A merchant seldom thinks but of his own particular trade. To write a good book upon it a man must have extensive views; it is not necessary to have practised to write well upon a subject."

It is not within the scope of a work like the present to give an account of the doctrines of the Wealth of Nations, or any estimate of their originality or value, or of their influence on the progress of science, on the policy and prosperity of nations, or on the practical happiness of mankind. Buckle, as we know, declared it to be "in its ultimate results probably the most important book that has ever been written"; a book, he said, which has "done more towards the happiness of man than has been effected by the united abilities of all the statesmen and legislators of whom history has preserved an authentic account";[246] and even those who take the most sober view of the place of this work in history readily admit that its public career, which is far from being ended yet, is a very remarkable story of successive conquest.

It has been seriously asserted that the fortune of the book in this country was made by Fox quoting it one day in the House of Commons. But this happened in November 1783, after the book had already gone through two editions and was on the eve of appearing in a third. It is curious, however, that that was the first time it was quoted in the House, and it is curious, again, that the person to quote it then was Fox, who was neither an admirer of the book, nor a believer in its principles, nor a lover of its subject. He once told Charles Butler that he had never read the book, and the remark must have been made many years after its publication, for it was made at St. Anne's Hill, to which Fox only went in 1785. "There is something in all these subjects," the statesman added in explanation, "which passes my comprehension; something so wide that I could never embrace them myself nor find any one who did."[247] On another occasion, when he was dining one evening in 1796 at Sergeant Heywood's, Fox showed his hearty disdain for Smith and political economy together. The Earl of Lauderdale, who was himself an economist of great ability, and by no means a blind follower of Smith, made the remark that we knew nothing of political economy before Adam Smith wrote. "Pooh," said Fox, "your Adam Smiths are nothing, but" (he added, turning to the company) "that is his love; we must spare him there." "I think," replied Lauderdale, "he is everything." "That," rejoined Fox, "is a great proof of your affection." Fox was no believer in free trade, and actively opposed the Commercial Treaty with France in 1787 on the express and most illiberal ground that it proceeded from a novel system of doctrines, that it was a dangerous departure from the established principles of our forefathers, and that France and England were enemies by nature, and ought to be kept enemies by legislation.

It is curious therefore that in a House where Smith had many admirers and not a few disciples, his book was never mentioned for near eight years after its appearance, and was mentioned then by an enemy of its principles. Fox's quotation from it on that occasion was of the most unimportant character. It was in his speech on the Address of Thanks to the Throne, and he said: "There was a maxim laid down in an excellent book upon the Wealth of Nations which had been ridiculed for its simplicity, but which was indisputable as to its truth. In that book it was stated that the only way to become rich was to manage matters so as to make one's income exceed one's expenses. This maxim applied equally to an individual and to a nation. The proper line of conduct therefore was by a well-directed economy to retrench every current expense, and to make as large a saving during the peace as possible."[248] To think of this allusion having any influence on the fortunes of the work is of course out of reason. It was never even mentioned in the House again till the year 1787, when Mr. Robert Thornton invoked it in support of the Commercial Treaty with France, and Mr. George Dempster read an extract from it in the debate on the proposal to farm the post-horse duties. It was quoted once in 1788, by Mr. Hussy on the Wool Exportation Bill, and not referred to again until Pitt introduced his Budget on the 17th February 1792. In then explaining the progressive accumulation of capital that was always spontaneously going on in a country when it was not checked by calamity or by vicious legislation, that great minister, a deep student of Smith's book and the most convinced of all Smith's disciples, made the remark: "Simple and obvious as this principle is, and felt and observed as it must have been in a greater or less degree even from the earliest periods, I doubt whether it has ever been fully developed and sufficiently explained but in the writings of an author of our own time, now unfortunately no more (I mean the author of the celebrated treatise on the Wealth of Nations), whose extensive knowledge of detail and depth of philosophical research will, I believe, furnish the best solution of every question connected with the history of commerce and with the system of political economy."[249] In the same year it was quoted by Mr. Whitbread and by Fox (from the exposition of the division of labour in the first book) in the debate on the armament against Russia, and by Wilberforce in his speech introducing his Bill for the Abolition of the Slave Trade.

It was not mentioned in the House of Lords till 1793, when in the debate on the King's Message for an Augmentation of the Forces it was referred to by Smith's two old friends, the Earl of Shelburne (now Marquis of Lansdowne) and Alexander Wedderburn (now Lord Loughborough, and presiding over the House as Lord Chancellor, of England). The Marquis of Lansdowne said: "With respect to French principles, as they had been denominated, those principles had been exported from us to France, and could not be said to have originated among the population of the latter country. The new principles of government founded on the abolition of the old feudal system were originally propagated among us by the Dean of Gloucester, Mr. Tucker, and had since been more generally inculcated by Dr. Adam Smith in his work on the Wealth of Nations, which had been recommended as a book necessary for the information of youth by Mr. Dugald Stewart in his Elements of the Philosophy of the Human Mind." The Lord Chancellor in replying merely said that "in the works of Dean Tucker, Adam Smith, and Mr. Stewart, to which allusion had been made, no doctrines inimical to the principles of civil government, the morals or religion of mankind, were contained, and therefore to trace the errors of the French to these causes was manifestly fallacious."[250]

Lord Lansdowne's endeavour to shield Smith's political orthodoxy under the countenance lent to his book by so safe and trusted a teacher of the sons of the Whig nobility as Dugald Stewart, is hardly less curious than his unreserved identification of the new political economy with that moving cloud of ideas which, under the name of French principles, excited so much alarm in the public mind of that time. For Dugald Stewart was in that same year 1793 (on the evenings of 21st January and 18th March) reading his Memoir of Adam Smith to the Royal Society of Edinburgh, and he tells us himself (in 1810) how he was compelled to abandon the idea of giving a long account of Smith's opinions which he intended to have done, because at that period, he says, "it was not unusual, even among men of some talents and information, to confound studiously the speculative doctrines of political economy with those discussions concerning the first principles of government, which happened unfortunately at that time to agitate the public mind. The doctrine of a Free Trade was itself represented as of a revolutionary tendency, and some who had formerly prided themselves on their intimacy with Mr. Smith, and on their zeal for the propagation of his liberal system, began to call in question the expediency of subjecting to the disputation of philosophers the arcana of State policy, and the unfathomable wisdom of feudal ages."[251] People's teeth had been so set on edge by the events in France that, as Lord Cockburn tells us, when Stewart first began to give a course of lectures in the University on political economy in the winter 1801-2, the mere term "political economy" made them start. "They thought it included questions touching the constitution of governments, and not a few hoped to catch Stewart in dangerous propositions."[252]

The French Revolution seems to have checked for a time the growing vogue of Smith's book and the advance of his principles in this country, just as it checked the progress of parliamentary and social reform, because it filled men's mind with a fear of change, with a suspicion of all novelty, with an unreasoning dislike of anything in the nature of a general principle. By French principles the public understood, it is true, much more than the abolition of all commercial and agrarian privilege which was advocated by Smith, but in their recoil they made no fine distinctions, and they naturally felt their prejudices strongly confirmed when they found men like the Marquis of Lansdowne, who were believers in the so-called French principles and believers at the same time in the principles of Adam Smith, declaring that the two things were substantially the same. Whether and how far Smith or Tucker had any influence on that development of opinion which eventuated in the Revolution, it would be difficult to gauge. Before Lord Lansdowne made this speech in 1793 two different translations of the Wealth of Nations into French had already been published; a third (by the Abbe Morellet) had been written but not published, and a fourth was possibly under way, for it appeared in a few years. The first and worst of these translations, moreover (Blavet's), had already gone through three separate editions, after having originally run through a periodical in monthly sections for two years. These are all tokens that the work was unquestionably influencing French opinion.

But if the French Revolution stopped for a time, as is most likely, the onward advance of Smith's free-trade principles, it does not seem to have exercised the same effect on the actual sale of the book. I do not know whether the successive editions were uniform in number of copies, but as many editions of the Wealth of Nations—four English and one Irish—appeared between the years 1791 and 1799 as between the years 1776 and 1786, and since none was called for from 1786 till 1791, the edition of 1786 took longer to sell off than the subsequent editions of 1791, 1793, and 1796. It is quite possible—indeed it is only natural—that the wave of active antagonism which, according to Stewart's testimony, rose against the principles of the book after the outbreak of the French Revolution would have helped on the sale of the book itself by keeping it more constantly under public attention, discussion, and, if you will, vituperation. The fortune of a book, like that of a public man, is often made by its enemies.

But the very early influence of the Wealth of Nations in the English political world is established by much better proofs than quotations in Parliament. It had actually shaped parts of the policy of the country years before it was ever publicly alluded to in either House. The very first budget after its publication bore its marks. Lord North was then on the outlook for fresh and comparatively unburdensome means of increasing the revenue, and obtained valuable assistance from the Wealth of Nations. He imposed two new taxes in 1777, of which he got the idea there; one on man-servants, and the other on property sold by auction. And the budget of 1778 owed still more important features to Smith's suggestions, for it introduced the inhabited house duty so strongly recommended by him, and the malt tax.[253] Then in the following year 1779 we find Smith consulted by statesmen like Dundas and the Earl of Carlisle on the pressing and anxious question of giving Ireland free trade. His answers still exist, and will appear later on in this work.[254]


[244] Hume MSS., R.S.E.

[245] Burton's Life of Hume, ii. 487.

[246] Buckle's History of Civilisation, ed. 1869, i. 214.

[247] Butler's Reminiscences, i. 176.

[248] Parliamentary History, xxiii. 1152.

[249] Parliamentary History, xxix. 834.

[250] Ibid., xxx. 330, 334.

[251] Stewart's Works, x. 87.

[252] Cockburn's Memorials of My Own Time, p. 174.

[253] See Dowell's Taxation, ii. 169.

[254] See below, pp. 350, 352.




After the publication of his book in the beginning of March, Smith still dallied in London, without taking any steps to carry out his plan of going to see Hume in Edinburgh and bring him up to London. But some hope seems to have been entertained of Hume coming up even without Smith's persuasion and escort. John Home, who was in London and was in correspondence with him, thought so, but he at length received a direct negative to the idea in a letter from Hume himself, written on the 12th of April; and then Smith and John Home set out together immediately for the northern capital, but when the coach stopped at Morpeth, whom should they see standing in the door of the inn but Colin, their friend's servant? Hume had determined to undertake the journey to London after all to consult Sir John Pringle, and was now so far on his way. John Home thereupon accompanied Hume back to London, but Smith, having heard of his mother being taken ill, and being anxious about her, as she was now over eighty years old, continued his journey on to Kirkcaldy. At Morpeth, however, he and Hume had time to discuss the question of the publication, in the event of Hume's death, of certain of his unpublished works. Hume had already on the 4th of January 1776 made Smith his literary executor by will, leaving him full power over all his papers except the Dialogues on Natural Religion, which he explicitly desired him to publish. It was years since this work had been written, but its publication had been deferred in submission to the representations of Sir Gilbert Elliot and other friends as to the annoying clamour it was sure to excite. Its author, however, had never ceased to cherish a peculiar paternal pride in the work, and now that his serious illness forced him to face the possibility of its extinction, he resolved at last to save it from that fate, clamour or no clamour. If he lived, he would publish it himself; if he died, he charged his executor to do so.

But this was a duty for which Smith had no mind. He was opposed to the publication of these Dialogues on general grounds and under any editorship whatever, as will appear in the course of the correspondence which follows, but he had also personal scruples against editing them, of the same character as those which had already so long prevented their author himself from publishing them. He shrank from the public clamour in which it would involve him, and the injury it might do to his prospects of preferment from the Crown. When he met Hume at Morpeth accordingly he laid his mind fully before his friend, and the result was that Hume agreed to leave the whole question of publication or no publication absolutely to Smith's discretion, and on reaching London sent Smith a formal letter of authority empowering him to deal with the Dialogues as he judged best.

LONDON, 3rd May 1776.

MY DEAR FRIEND—I send you enclosed a new ostensible letter, conformably to your desire. I think, however, your scruples groundless. Was Mallet anywise hurt by his publication of Lord Bolingbroke? He received an office afterwards from the present king and Lord Bute, the most prudent men in the world, and he always justified himself by his sacred regard to the will of a dead friend. At the same time I own that your scruples have a specious appearance, but my opinion is that if upon my death you determine never to publish these papers, you should leave them sealed up with my brother and family, with some inscription that you reserve to yourself the power of reclaiming them whenever you think proper. If I live a few years longer I shall publish them myself. I consider an observation of Rochefoucault that the wind, though it extinguishes a candle, blows up a fire.

You may be surprised to hear me talk of living years, considering the state you saw me in and the sentiments both I and all my friends at Edinburgh entertained on that subject. But though I cannot come up entirely to the sanguine notions of our friend John, I find myself very much recovered on the road, and I hope Bath waters and further journies may effect my cure.

By the little company I have seen I find the town very full of your book, which meets with general approbation. Many people think particular parts disputable, but this you certainly expected. I am glad that I am one of the number, as these parts will be the subject of future conversation between us. I set out for Bath, I believe, on Monday, by Sir John Pringle's directions. He says that he sees nothing to be apprehended in my case. If you write to me (hem! hem!)—I say if you write to me, send your letter under cover to Mr. Strahan, who will have my direction.[255]

The ostensible letter which accompanied the other is—

LONDON, 3rd May 1776.

MY DEAR SIR—After reflecting more maturely on that article of my will by which I leave you the disposal of all my papers, with a request that you should publish my Dialogues concerning Natural Religion, I have become sensible that both on account of the nature of the work and of your situation it may be improper to hurry on that publication. I therefore take the present opportunity of qualifying that friendly request. I am content to leave it entirely to your discretion at what time you will publish that piece, or whether you will publish it at all.

You will find among my papers a very inoffensive piece called "My Own Life," which I composed a few days before I left Edinburgh, when I thought, as did all my friends, that my life was despaired of. There can be no objection that the small piece should be sent to Messrs. Strahan and Cadell and the proprietors of my other works, to be prefixed to any future edition of them.[256]

The ink of those letters was scarcely dry before Hume's heart softened again towards his Dialogues, and in order to make more sure of their eventual publication than he could feel while they were entrusted to Smith's hands, he wrote Strahan from Bath on the 8th of June asking if he would agree to act as literary executor and undertake the editing and publishing of the work. In this letter he says: "I have hitherto forborne to publish it because I was of late desirous to live quietly and keep remote from all clamour, for though it be not more exceptionable than some things I had formerly published, yet you know some of them were thought exceptionable, and in prudence perhaps I ought to have suppressed them. I there introduce a sceptic who is indeed refuted and at last gives up the argument; nay, confesses that he was only amusing himself by all his cavils, yet before he is silenced he advances several topics which will give umbrage and will be deemed for bold and free as well as much out of the common road. As soon as I arrive at Edinburgh I intend to print a small edition of 500, of which I may give away about 100 in presents, and shall make you the property of the whole, provided you have no scruple, in your present situation, of being the editor. It is not necessary you should prefix any name to the Title-page. I seriously declare that after Mr. Miller and you and Mr. Cadell have publicly avowed your publication of the Inquiry concerning Human Understanding, I know no reason why you should have the least scruple with regard to these Dialogues. They will be much less obnoxious to the Law and not more exposed to popular clamour. Whatever your resolution be, I beg you would keep an entire silence on this subject. If I leave them to you by will, your executing the desire of a dead friend will render the publication still more excusable. Mallet never suffered anything by being the editor of Bolingbroke's works."[257]

Strahan agreed to undertake this duty, and Hume on the 12th of June added a codicil to his will making Strahan his literary executor and entire master of all his manuscripts. Hume, however, got rapidly worse in health, so that he never printed the small edition he spoke of, and feeling his end to be near, he added a fresh codicil to his will on the 7th of August, desiring Strahan to publish the Dialogues within two years, and adding that if they were not published in two years and a half the property should return to his nephew (afterwards Baron of Exchequer), "whose duty," he says, "in publishing them, as the last request of his uncle, must be approved of by all the world."[258]

Hume had meanwhile on the 4th of July 1776 gathered his group of more intimate friends about him to eat together a last farewell dinner before he made the great departure. Smith was present at this touching and unusual reunion, and may possibly have remained some days thereafter, for he speaks in a letter in the following month of having had several conversations with Hume lately, among them being that which he afterwards published in his letter to Strahan. But he was in Kirkcaldy again in the beginning of August, and received there on the 22nd of August the following letter which Hume had written on the 15th, and which, having gone, through some mistake, by the carrier instead of the post, had lain for a week at the carrier's house without being delivered. The delay occasioned by this accident was the more unfortunate on account of the earnest appeal for an early answer with which the letter closes, and which seems to contain a recollection of many past transgressions, for Smith was always a dilatory and backward correspondent, the act of writing, as he repeatedly mentions, being a real pain to him.

EDINBURGH, 15th August 1776.

MY DEAR SMITH—I have ordered a new copy of my Dialogues to be made besides that wh. will be sent to Mr. Strahan, and to be kept by my nephew. If you will permit me, I shall order a third copy to be made and consigned to you. It will bind you to nothing, but will serve as a security. On revising them (which I have not done these five years) I find that nothing can be more cautiously and more artfully written. You had certainly forgotten them. Will you permit me to leave you the property of the copy, in case they should not be published in five years after my decease? Be so good as write me an answer soon. My state of health does not permit me to wait months for it.—Yours affectionately,


To this letter Smith, immediately on receiving it, sent the following reply:—

KIRKALDY, 22nd August 1776.

MY DEAREST FRIEND—I have this moment received yr. letter of the 15th inst. You had, in order to save me the sum of one penny sterling, sent it by the carrier instead of the Post, and (if you have not mistaken the date) it has lain at his quarters these eight days, and was, I presume, very likely to lie there for ever.

I shall be very happy to receive a copy of your Dialogues, and if I should happen to die before they are published, I shall take care that my copy shall be as carefully preserved as if I was to live a hundred years. With regard to leaving me the property in case they are not published within five years after yr. decease, you may do as you think proper. I think, however, you should not menace Strahan with the loss of anything, in case he does not publish yr. work within a certain time. There is no probability of his delaying it, and if anything could make him delay it, it wd. be a clause of this kind, wh. wd. give him an honourable pretence for doing so. It would then be said I had published, for the sake of an emolument, not from respect to the memory of my friend, what even a printer, for the sake of the same emolument, had not published. That Strahan is sufficiently jealous you will see by the enclosed letter, wh. I will beg the favour of you to return to me, but by the Post, and not by the carrier.

If you will give me leave I will add a few lines to yr. account of your own life, giving some account in my own name of your behaviour in this illness, if, contrary to my own hopes, it should prove your last. Some conversations we had lately together, particularly that concerning your want of an excuse to make to Charon, the excuse you at last thought of, and the very bad reception wh. Charon was likely to give it, would, I imagine, make no disagreeable part of the history. You have in a declining state of health, under an exhausting disease, for more than two years together now looked at the approach of death with a steady cheerfulness such as very few men have been able to maintain for a few hours, tho' otherwise in the most perfect Health.

I shall likewise, if you give me leave, correct the sheets of the new edition of your works, and shall take care that it shall be published exactly according to your last corrections. As I shall be at London this winter, it will cost me very little trouble.

All this I have written upon the supposition that the event of yr. disease should prove different from what I still hope it may do. For your spirits are so good, the spirit of life is still so very strong in you, and the progress of your disorder is so slow and gradual, that I still hope it may take a turn. Even the cool and steady Dr. Black, by a letter I received from him last week, seems not to be averse to the same hopes.

I hope I need not repeat to you that I am ready to wait on you whenever you wish to see me. Whenever you do so I hope you will not scruple to call on me. I beg to be remembered in the kindest and most respectful manner to yr. Brother, your sister, your nephew, and all other friends.—I ever am, my dearest friend, most affectionately yours,


Hume answered this letter next day.

EDINBURGH, 23rd August 1776.

MY DEAREST FRIEND—I am obliged to make use of my nephew's hand in writing to you, as I do not rise to-day.

There is no man in whom I have a greater confidence than Mr. Strahan, yet I have left the property of that manuscript to my nephew David, in case by any accident it should not be published within three years after my decease. The only accident I could foresee was one to Mr. Strahan's life, and without this clause my nephew would have had no right to publish it. Be so good as to inform Mr. Strahan of this circumstance.

You are too good in thinking any trifles that concern me are so much worth of your attention, but I give you entire liberty to make what additions you please to the account of my life.

I go very fast to decline, and last night had a small fever, wh. I hoped might put a quicker period to this tedious illness, but unluckily it has in a great measure gone off. I cannot submit to your coming over here on my account, as it is possible for me to see you so small a portion of the day, but Dr. Black can better inform you concerning the degree of strength which may from time to time remain with me.—Adieu, my dearest friend,


P.S.—It was a strange blunder to send yr. letter by the carrier.[261]

These were the last words of this long and memorable friendship. Two days after they were written Hume passed peacefully away, and his bones were laid in the new cemetery on the Calton Crags, and covered a little later, according to his own express provision, with that great round tower, designed by Robert Adam, which Smith once pointed out to the Earl of Dunmore as they were walking together down the North Bridge, and said, "I don't like that monument; it is the greatest piece of vanity I ever saw in my friend Hume."

Smith was no doubt at the funeral, and seems to have been present when the will was read, and to have had some conversation about it with Hume's elder brother, John Home of Ninewells,[262] for on the 31st of August he writes from Dalkeith House, where he had gone on a visit to his old pupil, discharging Ninewells of any obligation to pay the legacy of L200 which he had been left by Hume in consideration of acting as his literary executor, and which had not been revoked in the codicil superseding him by Strahan. This legacy Smith felt that he could not in the circumstances honourably accept, and he consequently lost no time in forwarding to Ninewells the following letter:—

DALKEITH HOUSE, 31st August 1776.

DEAR SIR—As the Duke proposes to stay here till Thursday next I may not have an opportunity of seeing you before yr. return to Ninewells. I therefore take the opportunity of discharging you and all others concerned of the Legacy which you was so good as to think might upon a certain event become due to me by your Brother's will, but which I think could upon no event become so, viz. the legacy of two hundred pounds sterling. I hereby therefore discharge it for ever, and least this discharge should be lost I shall be careful to mention it in a note at the bottom of my will. I shall be glad to hear that you have received this letter, and hope you will believe me to be, both on yr. Brother's account and your own, with great truth, most affectionately yours,


P.S.—I do not hereby mean to discharge the other Legacy, viz. that of a copy of his works.[263]

Mr. Home answered him on the 2nd of September as follows:—

DEAR SIR—I was favoured with yours of Saturday, and I assure you that on perusing the destination I was more of oppinion than when I saw you that the pecuniary part of it was not altered by the codicil, and that it was intended for you at all events, that my brother, knowing your liberal way of thinking, laid on you something as an equivalent, not imagining you would refuse a small gratuity from the hands it was to come from as a testimony of his friendship, and tho' I most highly esteem the motives and manner, I cannot agree to accept of your renunciation, but leave you full master to dispose of it which way is most agreeable to you.

The copys of the Dialogues are finished, and of the life, and will be sent to Mr. Strahan to-morrow, and I will mention to him your intention of adding to the last something to finish so valuable a life, and will leave you at liberty to look into the correction of the first as it either answers your leisure or ideas with regard to his composition or what effects you think it may have with regard to yourself. The two copys intended for you will be left with my sister when you please to require them, and the copy of the new edition of his works you shall be sure to receive, tho' you have, no better title to that part than the other, tho' much you have to the friendship and esteem, dr. sir, of him who is most sincerely yours,


EDINBURGH, 2nd September 1776.[264]

Smith's reply was that though the legacy might be due to him in strict law, he was fully satisfied it was not due to him in justice, because it was expressly given in the will as a reward for a task which he had declined to undertake. This reply was given in a letter of the 7th October, in which he enclosed a copy of the account of Hume's death which he proposed to add to his friend's own account of his life.

DEAR SIR—I send you under the same cover with this letter what I propose should be added to the account which your never-to-be-forgotten brother has left of his own life. When you have read it I beg you will return it to me, and at the same time let me know if you wd. wish to have anything either added to it or taken from it. I think there is a propriety in addressing it as a letter to Mr. Strahan, to whom he has left the care of his works. If you approve of it I shall send it to him as soon as I receive it from you.

I have added at the bottom of my will the note discharging the legacy of two hundred pounds which your brother was so kind as to leave me. Upon the most mature deliberation I am fully satisfied that in justice it is not due to me. Tho' it should be due to me therefore in strict law, I cannot with honour accept of it. You will easily believe that my refusal does not proceed from any want of the highest respect for the memory of your deceased brother.—I have the honour to be, with the highest respect and esteem, dear sir, most sincerely and affectionately yours,


KIRKALDY, FIFESHIRE, 7th October 1776.[265]

Mr. Home returned Smith's manuscript to him on the 14th of October, and expressed his entire approbation of it except "that as it is to be added to what is wrote in so short and simple a manner, he would have wished that the detail had been less minutely entered into, particularly of the journey which, being of a private concern and having drawn to no consequences, does not interest the publick," but still he expressed that opinion, he said, with diffidence, and thought the piece would perhaps best stand as it was. He says, too, that instead of the words, "as my worst enemies could wish" in the remark to Dr. Dundas, he was told that the words his brother actually used were, "as my enemies, if I have any, could wish"—a correction which was adopted by Smith. And he repeats that by his interpretation of his brother's will he considers the legacy to belong to Smith both in law and in equity.

Meanwhile Smith had also written Strahan from Dalkeith:—

MY DEAR STRAHAN—By a codicil to the will of our late most valuable friend Mr. Hume, the care of his manuscripts is left to you. Both from his will and from his conversation I understand that there are only two which he meant should be published—an account of his life and Dialogues concerning Natural Religion. The latter, tho' finely written, I could have wished had remained in manuscript to be communicated only to a few people. When you read the work you will see my reasons without my giving you the trouble of reading them in a letter. But he has ordered it otherwise. In case of their not being published within three years after his decease, he has left the property of them to his nephew. Upon my objecting to this clause as unnecessary and improper, he wrote to me by his nephew's hand in the following terms: "There is no man in whom I have a greater confidence than Mr. Strahan, yet have I left the property of that manuscript to my nephew David, in case by any accident they should not be published within three years after my decease. The only accident I could foresee was one to Mr. Strahan's life, and without this clause my nephew would have had no right to publish it. Be so good as inform Mr. Strahan of this circumstance." Thus far this letter, which was dated on the 23rd of August. He dyed on the 25th at 4 o'clock afternoon. I once had persuaded him to leave it entirely to my discretion either to publish them at what time I thought proper, or not to publish them at all. Had he continued of this mind the manuscript should have been most carefully preserved, and upon my decease restored to his family; but it never should have been published in my lifetime. When you have read it you will perhaps think it not unreasonable to consult some prudent friend about what you ought to do.

I propose to add to his Life a very well authenticated account of his behaviour during his last illness. I must, however, beg that his life and those Dialogues may not be published together, as I am resolved for many reasons to have no concern in the publication of the Dialogues. His life, I think, ought to be prefixed to the next edition of his former works, upon which he has made many very proper corrections, chiefly in what concerns the language. If this edition is published while I am at London, I shall revise the sheets and authenticate its being according to his last corrections. I promised him that I would do so.

If my mother's health will permit me to leave her, I shall be in London by the beginning of November. I shall write to Mr. Home to take my lodgings as soon as I return to Fife, which will be on Monday or Tuesday next. The Duke of Buccleugh leaves this on Sunday. Direct for me at Kirkaldy, Fifeshire, where I shall remain all the rest of the season.—I remain, my dear Strahan, most faithfully yours,


DALKEITH HOUSE, 5th September 1776.

Let me hear from you soon.[266]

To this Strahan replied on the 16th of September, and then towards the end of October Smith wrote the following answer, of which the first draft, in Smith's own handwriting, unsigned and undated and containing considerable erasures, exists in the R.S.E. Library. It shows that Smith submitted his account of Hume's illness to the whole circle of Hume's intimate friends, and that at the moment of writing he was waiting for the arrival of John Home, the poet, in Edinburgh, to obtain his remarks upon it.

DEAR SIR—When I received your last letter I had not begun the small addition I proposed to make to the life of our late friend. It is now more than three weeks since I finished it, and sent one copy to his brother and another to Dr. Black. That which I sent to his brother is returned with remarks, all of which I approve of and shall adopt. Dr. Black waits for John Home, the Poet, who is expected every day in Edinburgh, whose remarks he proposes to send along with those of all our common friends. The work consists only of two sheets, in the form of a letter to you, but without one word of flattery or compliment. It will not cost my servant a forenoon to transcribe it, so that you will receive it by the first post after it is returned to me.

I am much obliged to you for so readily agreeing to print the life together with my additions separate from the Dialogues. I even flatter myself that this arrangement will contribute not only to my quiet but to your interest. The clamour against the Dialogues, if published first, might hurt for some time the sale of the new edition of his works, and when the clamour has a little subsided the Dialogues may hereafter occasion a quicker sale of another edition.

I do not propose being with you till the Christmas holidays; in the meantime I should be glad to know how things stand between us, what copies of my last book are either sold or unsold, and when the balance of our bargain is likely to be due to me. I beg my most respectful and affectionate compliments to Mr. Cadell; I should have written him, but you know the pain it gives me to write with my own hand, and I look upon writing to him and you as the same thing. I have been since I came to Scotland most exceedingly idle. It is partly in order to bring up in some measure my leeway that I propose to stay here two months longer than I once intended. If my presence, however, was at all necessary in London, I could easily set out immediately.

I beg the favour of you to send the enclosed to Mr. Home. The purpose of it is to bespeak my lodgings.[267]

The second and third paragraphs of this letter as they stood at first are erased entirely, but their original substance is in no way altered in their corrected form. One of the original sentences about the clamour he dreaded may perhaps be transcribed. "I am still," he says, "uneasy about the clamour which I foresee they will excite." It may also be noticed that he does not seem to have dictated his account of Hume's illness to his amanuensis, but to have written it with his own hand and then got his amanuensis to transcribe it. The Mr. Home whom he wishes to bespeak lodgings for him must be John Home the poet, in spite of the circumstance that he speaks of John Home the poet as being expected in Edinburgh every day at the time of writing; and in the event Home does not seem to have come to Edinburgh, for in a subsequent letter to Strahan on 13th of November Smith again mentions having written Mr. Home to engage lodgings for him from Christmas. This letter is as follows:—

DEAR SIR—The enclosed is the small addition which I propose to make to the account which our late invaluable friend left of his own life.

I have received L300 of the copy money of the first edition of my book. But as I got a good number of copies to make presents of from Mr. Cadell, I do not exactly know what balance may be due to me. I should therefore be glad he would send me the account. I shall write to him upon this subject.

With regard to the next edition, my present opinion is that it should be printed in four vol. octavo; and I would propose that it should be printed at your expense, and that we should divide the profits. Let me know if this is agreeable to you.

My mother begs to be remembered to Mrs. Strahan and Miss Strahan, and thinks herself much obliged both to you and them for being so good as to remember her.—I ever am, dear sir, most affectionately yours,


KIRKALDY, FIFESHIRE, 13th November 1776.

I shall certainly be in town before the end of the Christmas holidays. I do not apprehend it can be necessary for me to come sooner. I have therefore written to Mr. Home to bespeak my lodgings from Christmas.[268]

Strahan acknowledges this letter on the 26th of November, and asks Smith's opinion on an idea that has occurred to him of publishing the interesting series of letters from Hume to himself which he possessed, and which, after a curious and remarkable history, have been now preserved for the world through the liberality of Lord Rosebery and the learned devotion of Mr. Birkbeck Hill. To these letters Strahan, if he obtained Smith's concurrence, would like to add those of Hume to Smith himself, to John Home, to Robertson, and other friends, which have now for the most part been lost. But Smith put his foot on this proposal decisively, on the ground apparently that it was most improper for a man's friends to publish anything he had written which he had himself given no express direction or leave to publish either by his will or otherwise. Strahan's letter runs thus:—

DEAR SIR—I received yours of the 13th enclosing the addition to Mr. Hume's Life, which I like exceedingly. But as the whole put together is very short and will not make a volume even of the smallest size, I have been advised by some very good judges to annex some of his letters to me on political subjects. What think you of this? I will do nothing without your advice and approbation, nor would I for the world publish any letter of his but such as in yr. opinion would do him honour. Mr. Gibbon thinks such as I have shown him would have that tendency. Now if you approve of this in any manner, you may perhaps add partly to the collection from your own cabinet and those of Mr. John Home, Dr. Robertson, and others of your mutual friends which you may pick up before you return hither. But if you wholly disapprove of this scheme say nothing of it, here let it drop, for without your concurrence I will not publish a single word of his. I should be glad, however, of your sentiments as soon as you can, and let me know at the same time as nearly as may be what day you purpose to be in London, for I must again repeat to you that without your approbation I will do nothing.

Your proposal to print the next edition of your work in 4 vols. octavo at our expense and to divide the Profits is a very fair one, and therefore very agreeable to Mr. Cadell and me. Enclosed is the List of Books delivered to you of the 1st edit.

My wife and daughter join kindest compliments to your amiable Parent, who, I hope, is still able to enjoy your company, which must be her greatest comfort.—Dear sir, your faithful and affectionate humble servant,


LONDON, 26th November 1776.[269]

The following is Smith's reply:—

DEAR SIR—It always gives me great uneasiness whenever I am obliged to give an opinion contrary to the inclination of my friend. I am sensible that many of Mr. Hume's letters would do him great honour, and that you would publish none but such as would. But what in this case ought principally to be considered is the will of the Dead. Mr. Hume's constant injunction was to burn all his Papers except the Dialogues and the account of his own life. This injunction was even inserted in the body of his will. I know he always disliked the thought of his letters ever being published. He had been in long and intimate correspondence with a relation of his own who dyed a few years ago. When that gentleman's health began to decline he was extremely anxious to get back his letters, least the heir should think of publishing them. They were accordingly returned, and burnt as soon as returned. If a collection of Mr. Hume's letters besides was to receive the public approbation, as yours certainly would, the Curls of the times would immediately set about rummaging the cabinets of all those who had ever received a scrap of paper from him. Many things would be published not fit to see the light, to the great mortification of all those who wish well to his memory. Nothing has contributed so much to sink the value of Swift's works as the undistinguished publication of his letters; and be assured that your publication, however select, would soon be followed by an undistinguished one. I should therefore be sorry to see any beginning given to the publication of his letters. His life will not make a volume, but it will make a small pamphlet. I shall certainly be in London by the tenth of January at furthest. I have a little business at Edinburgh which may detain me a few days about Christmas, otherwise I should be with you by the new year. I have a great deal more to say to you; but the post is just going. I shall write to Mr. Cadell by next post.—I ever am, dear sir, most affectionately yours,


KIRKALDY, 2nd December 1776.[270]

When we consider Smith's concern about the clamour he expected to arise from the Dialogues, and his entire unconcern about the clamour he did not expect to arise from the letter to Strahan on Hume's last illness, the actual event seems one of those teasing perversities which drew from Lord Bolingbroke the exclamation, "What a world is this, and how does fortune banter us!" The Dialogues fell flat; the world had apparently had its surfeit of theological controversy. A contemporary German observer of things in England states that while the book made something of a sensation in his own country, it excited nothing of that sort here, and was already at the moment he wrote (1785) entirely forgotten.[271]

The letter to Strahan, on the other hand, excited a long reverberation of angry criticism. Smith had certainly in writing it no thought of undermining the faith, or of anything more than speaking a good word for the friend he loved, and putting on record some things which he considered very remarkable when he observed them, but in the ear of that age his simple words rang like a challenge to religion itself. Men had always heard that without religion they could neither live a virtuous life nor die an untroubled death, and yet here was the foremost foe of Christianity represented as leading more than the life of the just, and meeting death not only without perturbation, but with a positive gaiety of spirits. His cheerfulness without frivolity, his firmness, his magnanimity, his charity, his generosity, his entire freedom from malice, his intellectual elevation and strenuous labour, are all described with the affection and confidence of a friend who had known them well; and they are finally summed up in the conclusion: "Upon the whole I have always considered him, both in his lifetime and since his death, as approaching as nearly to the idea of a perfectly wise and virtuous man as perhaps the nature of human frailty will permit."

Hume's character was certainly one of great beauty and nobleness, and churchmen who knew him well speak of him in quite as strong admiration as Smith. Robertson used to call him "the virtuous heathen"; Blair said every word Smith wrote about him was true; and Lord Hailes, a grave religious man and a public apologist of Christianity, showed sufficient approbation of this letter to translate it into Latin verse. But in the world generally it raised a great outcry. It was false, it was incredible, it was a wicked defiance of the surest verities of religion. Even Boswell calls it a piece of "daring effrontery," and as he thinks of it being done by his old professor, says, "Surely now have I more understanding than my teachers." Though nothing was further from the intention of the author, it was generally regarded as an attack upon religion, which imperatively called for repulsion; and a champion soon appeared in the person of Dr. George Horne, President of Magdalen College, Oxford, author of a well-known commentary on the Psalms, and afterwards Bishop of Norwich. In an anonymous pamphlet, entitled "A Letter to Adam Smith, LL.D., on the Life, Death, and Philosophy of David Hume, Esq., by one of the People called Christians," which ran rapidly through a number of editions, Horne, begging the whole question he raises, contends that a man of Hume's known opinions could not by any possibility be the good and virtuous man Smith represented him to be, for had he been really generous, or compassionate, or good-natured, or charitable, or gentle-minded, he could never have thought of erasing from the hearts of mankind the knowledge of God and the comfortable faith in His fatherly care, or been guilty of "the atrocious wickedness of diffusing atheism through the land." Horne goes on to charge this "atrocious wickedness" against Smith too. "You would persuade us," he says, "by the example of David Hume, Esq., that atheism is the only cordial for low spirits and the proper antidote against the fear of death, but surely he who can reflect with complacency on a friend thus employing his talents in this life, and thus amusing himself with Lucian, whist, and Charon at his death, can smile over Babylon in ruins, esteem the earthquakes which destroyed Lisbon as agreeable occurrences, and congratulate the hardened Pharaoh on his overthrow in the Red Sea."

Smith never wrote any reply to this attack, nor took any public notice of it whatever, though he had too much real human nature in him to agree with Bishop Horne's own ethereal maxim that "a man reproached with a crime of which he knows himself to be innocent should feel no more uneasiness than if he was said to be ill when he felt himself in perfect health." It was of course quite unjust to accuse Smith of atheism, or of desiring to propagate atheism. His published writings, which the Bishop ought in fairness to have consulted, show him to have been a Theist, and there is some ground for thinking that he believed Hume, as many others of Hume's personal friends did, to have been a Theist likewise. Though Hume was philosophically a doubter about matter, about his own existence, about God, he did not practically think so differently from the rest of the world about any of the three as was often supposed. Dr. Carlyle always thought him a believer. Miss Mure of Caldwell, the sister of his great friend the Baron of Exchequer, says he was the most superstitious man she ever knew.[272] He told Holbach that an atheist never existed, and once, while walking with Adam Ferguson on a beautiful clear night, he stopped suddenly and exclaimed, pointing to the sky, "Can any one contemplate the wonders of that firmament and not believe that there is a God?"[273] That Smith would not have been surprised to hear his friend make such a confession is apparent from the well-known anecdote told of his absence of mind in connection with Henry Mackenzie's story of "La Roche." That story was written soon after Hume's death; it was published in the Mirror in 1779, while Horne's agitation was raging; and the author introduced Hume as one of the characters of the piece for the very purpose of presenting this more favourable view of the great sceptic's religious position with which Mackenzie had been impressed in his own intercourse with him. Hume appears in the story as a visitor in Switzerland, an inmate of the simple household of the pastor La Roche, and after describing him as being deeply taken with the sweet and unaffected piety of this family's life and with the faith that sustained them in their troubles, the author goes on to observe, "I have heard him long after confess that there were moments when, amidst the pride of philosophical discovery and the pride of literary fame, he recalled to his mind the venerable figure of the good La Roche and wished he had never doubted." Before publishing his story Mackenzie read it to Adam Smith, in order to be told whether anything should be omitted or altered as being out of keeping with Hume's character, and so completely was Smith carried away by the verisimilitude that he not only said he found not a syllable to object to, but added that he was surprised he had never heard the anecdote before. In his absence of mind he had forgotten for the moment that he had been asked to listen to the story as a work of fiction, and his answer was the best compliment Mackenzie could receive to his fidelity to the probabilities of character.[274]


[255] Burton's Life of Hume, ii. 492.

[256] Ibid., ii. 493.

[257] Hill's Letters of Hume to Strahan, p. 330.

[258] Burton's Life of Hume, ii. 494.

[259] Hume Correspondence, R.S.E. Library.

[260] Hume Correspondence, R.S.E. Library.

[261] Hume Correspondence, R.S.E. Library.

[262] Hume's brother always spelt his name with an o.

[263] Hume Correspondence, R.S.E. Library.

[264] Ibid.

[265] Hume Correspondence, R.S.E. Library.

[266] New York Evening Post, 30th April 1887. Original in possession of Mr. Worthington C. Ford of Washington, U.S.A. The first draft of this letter, in Smith's handwriting but without the last paragraph and the signature, seems to have been preserved by him as a copy for reference, and having been sent by him with his other Hume letters to the historian's nephew, is now in the Royal Society Library, Edinburgh.

[267] Hume Correspondence, R.S.E. Library.

[268] New York Evening Post, 30th March 1887. Original in possession of Mr. Worthington C. Ford of Washington, U.S.A.

[269] Hume Correspondence, R.S.E. Library.

[270] Hill's Letters of Hume, p. 351.

[271] Wendeborn, Zustand des Staats, etc., in Gross-britannien, ii. 365.

[272] Caldwell Papers, i. 41.

[273] Burton's Hume, ii. 451.

[274] See Mackenzie's "La Roche," and Mackenzie's Works of J. Home, i. 21.



Smith remained at Kirkcaldy from May to December 1776, except for occasional visits to Edinburgh or Dalkeith, but his thoughts, as we have noticed from time to time, were again bent on London, as soon as his mother's health should permit of his leaving home. He seems to have enjoyed London thoroughly during his recent prolonged sojourn, and inspired some hopes in friends like Strahan that he might even settle there as a permanent place of residence. After his departure for Scotland in April Strahan used to write him from time to time a long letter of political news keeping him abreast of all that was going on, and in a letter of the 16th of September he says: "I hope your mother's health will not prevent you from returning hither at the time you propose. You know I once mentioned to you how happy I thought it would make you both if you could bring her along with you to spend the remainder of her days in this Place, but perhaps it will not be easy to remove her so far at this time of her life. I pray you offer her the respectful compliments of my family, who do not forget her genteel and hospitable reception at Kircaldy some years ago."[275] The time Smith proposed to return, as he had written Strahan early in September, was November, but he afterwards put the journey off for two months on account of his own health, which had suffered from his long spell of literary labour, and was in need of more rest; and he might have postponed it still further but for the visit being necessary in order to carry the second edition of his work through the press. Early in January 1777 he is already in London, having found lodgings in Suffolk Street, near the British Coffee-House, and on the 14th of March we find him attending a dinner of the Literary Club, with Fox in the chair, and Gibbon, Garrick, Reynolds, Johnson, Burke, and Fordyce for the rest of the company.[276]

His great work had not yet attracted much public notice. Its merits were being fully recognised by the learned, and it was already leaving its mark on the budget of the year; but it was probable Smith was more talked about in general company at the time for his letter to Strahan than for his Wealth of Nations. In one little literary circle he was being zealously but most unjustly decried for taking a shabby revenge on a worthy young Scotch poet who had ventured to differ from him in opinion about the merits of the East India Company. Mickle, the author of the popular song "There's nae luck aboot the hoose," published his translation of the Lusiad of Camoens in 1775, and dedicated the book by permission to the Duke of Buccleugh, whose family had been his father's patrons, and from whose interest he hoped to obtain some advancement himself. When the work appeared the author sent a nicely-bound presentation copy to the Duke, but received no acknowledgment, and at length a common friend waited on his Grace, and, says one of Mickle's biographers, "heard with the indignation and contempt it deserved, a declaration that the work was at that time unread, and had been represented not to have the merit it had been first said to possess, and therefore nothing could be done on the subject of his mission." A dedication in those days was often only a more dignified begging letter, and Mickle's friends declared that he had been cruelly wronged, because the Duke had not only done nothing for him himself, but by accepting the dedication had prevented the author from going to some other patron who might have done something. Whatever could have been the reason for this sudden coolness of the Duke? Mickle and his little group of admirers declared it was all due to an ill word from the Duke's great mentor, Adam Smith, whom they alleged to have borne Mickle a grudge for having in the preface to the Lusiad successfully exposed the futility of some of the views about the East India Company propounded in the Wealth of Nations.[277]

But since the Wealth of Nations was only published in 1776, its opinions obviously could not, even with the vision and faculty divine of the poet, be commented on either favourably or unfavourably in the Lusiad, which was published in 1775. The comments on Smith's views appeared first in subsequent editions of Mickle's work, and were probably effects of the injury the author fancied himself to have suffered. Anyhow they could not have been its causes, and the whole story, so thoroughly opposed to the unusual tolerancy and benevolence of Smith's character, merits no attention. It sprang manifestly from some imaginary suspicion of a sensitive minor poet, but Mickle used to denounce Smith without stint, and, thinking he had an opportunity for retaliation when the letter to Strahan appeared, he wrote a satire entitled, "An Heroic Epistle from Hume in the Shades to Dr. Adam Smith," which he never published indeed, though he showed it about among his friends, but in which, says Sim, who had seen it, Smith and his noble pupil were rather roughly handled.[278] Mickle afterwards burnt this jeu d'esprit, and very probably came to entertain better views of Smith, for he seems to have been not only quick to suspect injuries, but ready after a space to perceive his error. He once inserted an angry note in one of his poems against Garrick, who had, as he imagined, used him ill; but going afterwards to see the great actor in King Lear, he listened to the first three acts without saying a word, and after a fine passage in the fourth, heaved a deep sigh, and turning to his companion said, "I wish that note was out of my book." Had he foreseen the noise his several friends continued to make, even after his death, about this purely imaginary offence on the part of Adam Smith, the poet would not improbably wish the polemical prefaces out of his book. Smith did not think much of Mickle's translation of the Lusiad, holding the French version to be much superior,[279] but if he happened to express this unfavourable opinion to the Duke of Buccleugh, it could not have been with any thought of injuring a struggling and meritorious young author. He has never shown any such intolerance of public contradiction as Mickle's friends chose to attribute to him. Dr. James Anderson, the first and true author of what is known as Ricardo's theory of rent, won Smith's friendship by a controversial pamphlet challenging some of his doctrines; Bentham won—what is rarer—his conversion from the doctrines impugned, and a very kindly letter still exists which Smith wrote to another hostile critic, Governor Pownall, and which I shall give here, as it was one of the first things he did after now arriving in London. Pownall had been Governor of Massachusetts, a man of much activity of mind and experience of affairs, and author of respectable works on the Principles of Polity, the Administration of the Colonies, and the Middle States of America. He was one of the forty-two persons to whom the authorship of the letters of Junius has been attributed. He differed strongly from many of Smith's views, especially from his condemnation of the monopoly of the colonial trade, and wrote a pamphlet setting forth his criticisms in the form of a letter to Adam Smith. This pamphlet Smith received in Edinburgh, just before his departure for London, and when he arrived he wrote the Governor as follows:—

SIR—I received the day before I left Edinburgh the very great honour of your letter. Though I arrived here on Sunday last, I have been almost from the day of my arrival confined by a cold, which I caught upon the road; otherwise I should before this time have done myself the honour of waiting on you in person, and of thanking you for the very great politeness with which you have everywhere treated me. There is not, I give you my word, in your whole letter a single syllable relating to myself which I could wish to have altered, and the publication of your remarks does me much more honour than the communication of them by a private letter could have done.

I hope in a few days to have the honour of waiting on you, and of discussing in person with you both the points on which we agree and those on which we differ. Whether you will think me, what I mean to be, a fair disputant, I know not; I can venture to promise you will not find me an irascible one. In the meantime I have the honour to be, with the highest respect and esteem, etc. etc.


SUFFOLK STREET, 12th January 1777.[280]

The gentleman who forwarded this letter to the editor of the Gentleman's Magazine in 1795, but whose name is not published, states, in further evidence, as he says, of Smith's liberality of mind, that "he altered in his second edition some of the parts objected to, and instead of a reply, sent to Governor Pownall a printed copy of this second edition so altered, and there all contest closed." Smith, however, does not appear to have made any such alterations. In feet, in the second edition he hardly made more than three or four alterations, and these were confined to the introduction of an additional fact or two in confirmation of his argument; and besides, when we refer to Pownall's pamphlet we find that their differences were all about points on which Smith's views were mature and the Governor's raw.

Smith probably remained most of the year 1777 in London, for, as we have seen, one of his reasons for being there was to see the second edition of his work through the press, and the second edition of his work did not appear till 1778. But he was back in Kirkcaldy again before December, and while there he received from Lord North the appointment of Commissioner of Customs in Scotland, vacant through the death of Mr. Archibald Menzies. The offence he unexpectedly gave to the world's religious sensibilities by his account of Hume's last days had not interfered, as he feared such an offence would, with his prospects of employment in the public service, nor, what is quite as remarkable, had his political opinions. For he was always a strong Whig, and the preferment was bestowed by a Tory ministry. It is usually attributed to the influence of the Duke of Buccleugh and Henry Dundas, then a member of the ministry as Lord Advocate for Scotland, and their word may no doubt have helped; but there is reason to believe that the appointment was really a direct reward to the author of the Wealth of Nations for the benefit Lord North, who was Chancellor of the Exchequer as well as Prime Minister, derived from that book in preparing the budgets for the years 1777 and 1778. Smith himself, in a letter to Strahan which will presently appear (p. 323) attributes the appointment largely to the favour of Sir Grey Cooper, who had been Secretary to the Treasury since 1765, and was naturally Lord North's right-hand man in the preparation of his budgets. At the time the Wealth of Nations appeared the English Chancellor of the Exchequer was at his wits' end for fresh and convenient and easy means of increasing the revenue to carry on the American war, and the book was a mine of suggestions to him. He imposed two new taxes in 1777, of which he got the idea there,—one on man-servants, estimated by him to bring in L105,000, though in the event it yielded only L18,000, and the other on property sold by auction, which was to bring in L37,000; but in the budget of 1778, which he would have under consideration at the very moment of Smith's appointment, he introduced two new taxes recommended by Smith,—the inhabited house duty, estimated to yield L264,000, and the malt tax, estimated to yield L310,000. Under those circumstances Smith's appointment to the Commissionership of Customs is to be regarded not as a private favour to the Duke of Buccleugh, but as an express recognition on the part of the Premier of the public value of Smith's work, and the more honourable because rendered to a political opponent who had condemned important parts of the ministerial policy—their American policy, for example—in his recent work.

The appointment was worth L600 a year,—L500 for the Commissionership of Customs and L100 for the Commissionership of the Salt Duties; and Smith still retained his pension of L300 from the House of Buccleugh. When he obtained this place he thought himself bound in honour to give up his Buccleugh pension, possibly because of the assistance he may have believed the Duke to have given in securing it; but he was informed that the pension was meant to be permanent and unconditional, and that if he were consulting his own honour in offering to give it up, he was not thinking of the honour of the Duke of Buccleugh. Smith now settled in Edinburgh accordingly with an assured income of L900 a year, and L900 a year was a comparatively princely revenue in the Scottish capital at a time when a Lord of Session had only L700 a year, and a professor in the best chair in the University seldom made as much as L300.

Though the appointment was made probably in November 1777, Smith did not receive the Commission till January 1778, and there were still fees to pay and other business to transact about the matter, which he got Strahan to do for him. That occasioned the following letters:—

DEAR SIR—The last letter I had the pleasure of receiving from you congratulated me upon my being appointed one of the Commissioners of Customs in Scotland. You told me at the same time that you had dined that day with Sir Grey Cooper, and that you had both been so good as to speak very favourably of me. I have received from London several other congratulations of the same kind. But I have not yet received, nor has the office here received, any official information that any such appointment had been made. It is possible that the Commission is not made out on account of the fees. If this is the case, you may either draw upon me for the amount, which I understand to be about L160, or you may write to me, and I shall by return of post remit you the money to London. Whatever be the cause of the delay, I beg you will endeavour to find it out and let me know as soon as possible, that I may at least be at the end of my hope. Remember me most affectionately to all your family, and believe me to be, most faithfully yours,


EDINBURGH, 20th December 1777.

Neither you nor Mr. Cadell have wrote me anything concerning the new Edition of my Book. Is it published? does it sell well? does it sell ill? does it sell at all? I left directions with Mr. Cadell to send copies of it to several of my friends. If John Hunter was not among the number, put him in ex dono authoris, and desire Cadell to send me the account of the whole, that I may pay it. I should write to him, but it would only be plaguing him. If you draw upon me make your bill payable at five days' sight. I return to Kirkaldy on Christmas Day.[281]

On returning to Kirkcaldy Smith again wrote Strahan:—

DEAR SIR—I should have sent you the enclosed bill the day after I received your letter accompanyed with a note from Mr. Spottiswood, had not Mr. Charteris, the Solicitor of the Customs here, told me that the fees were not paid in London, but at Edinburgh, where Mr. Shadrach Moyes acted as receiver and agent for the officers of the treasury at London. I have drawn the bill for L120, in order to pay, first, what you have advanced for me; secondly, the exchange between Edinburgh and London; and lastly, the account which I shall owe to Mr. Cadell, after he has delivered the presents I desired him to make of the second edition of my book. To this I beg he will add two copies, handsomely bound and guilt (sic), one to Lord North, the other to Sir Gray Cooper. I received Sir Gray's letter, and shall write to him as soon as the new Commission arrives, in order not to trouble him with answering two Letters. I believe that I have been very highly obliged to him in this business. I shall not say anything to you of the obligations I owe you for the concern you have shewn and the diligence you have exerted on my account. Remember me to Mr. Spottiswood. I shall write to him as soon as the affair is over. Would it be proper to send him any present or fee? I am much obliged to him, and should be glad to express my sense of it in every way in my power.

I would not make any alteration in my title-page on account of my new office.

Remember me to Mrs. and Miss Strahan, likewise to the Homes and the Hunters. How does the Painter go on? I hope he thrives.—I ever am, my dear sir, most faithfully and affectionately yours,


KIRKALDY, 14th January 1777.[282]

The Mr. Spottiswood mentioned in this letter was a nephew of Strahan, and no doubt an ancestor of Strahan's present successor in his printing business. The Hunters are John and William Hunter, the Homes are John Home and his wife, and the painter is Allan Ramsay.

In the course of a fortnight the Commission arrived, and Smith then wrote Strahan again:—

EDINBURGH, 5th February 1778.

MY DEAR STRAHAN—I received the Commission in due course, and have now to thank you for your great attention to my interest in every respect, but above all, for your generosity in so readily forgiving the sally of bad humour which, in consequence of General Skeenes, who meant too very well, most unreasonably broke out upon you. I can only say in my own vindication that I am not very subject to such sallies, and that upon the very few occasions on which I have happened to fall into them, I have soon recovered from them. I am told that no commission ever came so soon to Edinburgh, many having been delayed 3 weeks or a month after appearing in the Gazette. This extraordinary despatch I can impute to nothing but your friendly diligence and that of Mr. Spottiswood, to whom I beg to be remembered in the most respectful manner.

You have made a small mistake in stating our account. You credit me with L150 only, instead of L170; the first bill for L120, the second for L50. Cadell, however, still remains unpaid. As soon as I understand he has delivered the books, or before it, if he will send me the account of them, I shall send him the money.—I ever am, dear sir, most faithfully yours,


What was the cause of Smith's outbreak of very unhabitual irritation with Strahan on the occasion alluded to in this letter, I cannot say, nor probably does it in the least matter. His temper, indeed, was one of unusual serenity and constancy, and but for his own confession in this letter, we should never have known that it was liable, like others, to occasional perturbations, from which it appears, however, he speedily recovered, and of which he is evidently heartily ashamed. General Skeenes was probably one of his relations, the Skenes of Pitlour.

The money transactions mentioned in the concluding paragraph refer doubtless to his Commission fees, which from some calculations made, probably by Strahan, on the back of the letter, seem to have come to L147:18s. But the reference to Mr. Cadell's account shows that the second edition of his book had now appeared. It was not published in four volumes octavo, as he originally proposed to Strahan, but, like the former edition, in two volumes quarto, and the price was now raised from L1:16s. to two guineas, so that under the half-profit arrangement which was agreed upon, he must have obtained a very reasonable sum out of this edition, and we can understand how, from the four authorised editions published during his lifetime, he made, according to his friend Professor Dalzel, a "genteel fortune," as genteel fortunes went in those days.


[275] Hume MSS., R.S.E. Library.

[276] Leslie and Taylor, Life of Reynolds, ii. 199.

[277] Sim's Works of Mickle, Preface, xl.

[278] Ibid., Preface, xliii.

[279] The Bee, 1st May 1791.

[280] Gentleman's Magazine, lxv. 635.

[281] Original with Mr. F. Barker.

[282] Original in possession of Mr. Alfred Morrison.

[283] Original in possession of Mr. Alfred Morrison.



1778-1790. Aet. 55-67

On settling in Edinburgh Smith took a house in the Canongate—Panmure House, at the foot of Panmure Close, one of the steep and narrow wynds that descend from the north side of the Canongate towards the base of the Calton Hill; and this house was his home for the rest of his days, and in it he died. The Canongate—the old Court end of the Scottish capital—was still at the close of last century the fashionable residential quarter of the city, although Holyrood had then long lain deserted—as Hamilton of Bangour called it,

A virtuous palace where no monarch dwells.

The Scottish nobility had their town-houses in its gloomy courts, and great dowagers and famous generals still toiled up its cheerless stairs. Panmure House itself had been the residence of the Panmure family before Smith occupied it, and became the residence of the Countess of Aberdeen after his death. Most of his own more particular friends too—the better aristocracy of letters and science—lived about him here. If it was to Edinburgh, as Gibbon remarks, that "taste and philosophy seemed to have retired from the smoke and hurry of the immense capital of London," it was in the ancient smoke and leisure of the Canongate they found their sanctuary. Robertson flitted out, indeed, to the Grange House; Black—Smith's special crony in this Edinburgh period—to the present Blind Asylum in Nicolson Street, then a country villa; and Adam Ferguson to a place at the Sciennes which, though scarce two miles from the Cross, was thought so outrageously remote by the people of the compact little Edinburgh of those days, that his friends always called it Kamtschatka, as if it lay in the ends of the earth. But Kames and Hailes still lived in New Street, Sir John Dalrymple and Monboddo and many other notabilities in St. John Street, Cullen in the Mint, and Dugald Stewart in the Lothian Hut (the town-house of the Marquis of Lothian) in the Horse Wynd.

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