Life of Adam Smith
by John Rae
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Panmure House is still standing. It is a much more modern structure than the houses near it, having been built towards the middle of last century; and although its rooms are now mostly tenantless, and its garden a cooper's yard, it wears to this day an air of spacious and substantial comfort which is entirely wanting in the rest of the neighbourhood. William Windham, the statesman, who dined in it repeatedly when he was in Edinburgh with Burke in 1785, thought it a very stately house indeed for a philosopher. "House magnificent," he enters in his diary, "and place fine," and one can still imagine how it would appear so when the plastered walls were yet white, and the eye looked over the long strip of terraced garden on to the soft green slopes of the Calton. There was then no building of any kind on or about the Calton Hill, except the Observatory, and Dugald Stewart, who was very fond of rural scenery, always said that the great charm of his own house a few closes up was its view of the Calton crags and braes.

Smith brought over his mother and his cousin, Miss Douglas, from Kirkcaldy, and a few months later the youngest son of his cousin, Colonel Douglas of Strathendry, who was to attend school and college with a view to the bar, and whom he made his heir. Windham, after visiting them, makes the same note twice in his diary, "Felt strongly the impression of a family completely Scotch." Smith's house was noted for its simple and unpretending hospitality. He liked to have his friends about him without the formality of an invitation, and few strangers of distinction visited Edinburgh without being entertained in Panmure House. His Sunday suppers were still remembered and spoken of in Edinburgh when M'Culloch lived there as a young man. Scotch Sabbatarianism had not at that time reached the rigour that came in with the evangelical revival in the beginning of this century, and the Sunday supper was a regular Edinburgh institution. Even the Evangelical leaders patronised it. Lord Cockburn and Mrs. Somerville both speak with very agreeable recollections of the Sunday supper parties of the Rev. Sir Harry Moncreiff, and Boswell mentions being invited to one by another Evangelical leader, Dr. Alexander Webster.

His mother, his friends, his books—these were Smith's three great joys. He had a library of about 3000 volumes, as varied a collection in point of subject-matter as it would be possible to find. Professor Shield Nicholson, who saw a large portion of it, says: "I was most struck by the large number of books of travel and of poetry, of some of which there were more than one edition, and occasionally editions de luxe. I had hoped to find marginal notes or references which might have thrown light on the authorities of some passages in the Wealth of Nations (for Smith gives no references), but even the ingenious oft-quoted author of the Tracts on the Corn Laws has escaped without a mark. At the same time pamphlets have been carefully bound together and indexes prefixed in Smith's own writing."[284]

Mr. James Bonar has been able to collect a list of probably two-thirds of Smith's books—about 1000 books, or 2200 volumes.[285] Nearly a third of the whole are in French, another third in Latin, Greek, and Italian, and a little more than a third in English. According to Mr. Bonar's analysis, a fifth of them were on Literature and Art; a fifth were Latin and Greek classics; a fifth on Law, Politics, and Biography; a fifth on Political Economy and History; and the remaining fifth on Science and Philosophy. One cannot help remarking, as an indication of the economist's tastes, the almost complete absence of works in theology and prose fiction. Hume's Dialogues on Natural Religion and Pascal's Pensees belong as much to philosophy as theology; Jeremy Taylor's Antiquitates Christianae, Father Paul Sarpi's History of the Council of Trent, and Ruchat's Histoire de la Reformation de la Suisse belong as much to history; and except these the only representatives of theology on Smith's shelves were the English Bible, Watson's edition, 1722—probably his parents' family Bible—a French translation of the Koran, and Van Maestricht's Theologia. The only sermons, except those of Massillon in French, are the Sermons of Mr. Yorick. Those sermons, however, were the only representative of Sterne. Goldsmith was represented by his poems, but not by his fiction; and Defoe, Fielding, Richardson, and Smollett were not represented at all. One or two French novels were there, but except Gulliver, which came in with the complete edition of Swift's works in 1784, the only English novel Smith seems to have possessed was the Man of the World, by his friend Henry Mackenzie. It is perhaps stranger that he ignored the novel than that he ignored theology, for the novel was then a very rising and popular literary form, and Smith began life as a professed literary critic. His mind seems to have been too positive to care much for tales. On the other hand, of the Greek and Latin classics he not unfrequently had several different editions. He had eight, for example, of Horace, who seems to have been an especial favourite.

Like most men who are fond of books, he seems to have bound them well, and often elegantly. Smellie, the printer, says that the first time he happened to be in Smith's library he was "looking at the books with some degree of curiosity, and perhaps surprise, for most of the volumes were elegantly, and some of them superbly bound," when Smith, observing him, said, "You must have remarked that I am a beau in nothing but my books."[286] M'Culloch, however, who had seen the books, doubts whether their condition warranted the account given of them by Smellie, and says that while they were neatly, and in some cases even elegantly bound, he saw few or none of which the binding could with propriety be called superb.

The Custom House was on the upper floors of the Royal Exchange, in Exchange Square, off the High Street; and Kay, standing in his shop over at the corner of the Parliament Close, must often have seen Smith walk past from his house to his office in the morning exactly as he has depicted him in one of his portraits,—in a light-coloured coat, probably linen; knee-breeches, white silk stockings, buckle shoes, and flat broad-brimmed beaver hat; walking erect with a bunch of flowers in his left hand, and his cane, held by the middle, borne on his right shoulder, as Smellie tells us was Smith's usual habit, "as a soldier carries his musket." When he walked his head always moved gently from side to side, and his body swayed, Smellie says, "vermicularly," as if at each alternate step "he meant to alter his direction, or even to turn back." Often, moreover, his lips would be moving all the while, and smiling in rapt conversation with invisible companions. A very noticeable figure he was as he went up and down the High Street, and he used to tell himself the observations of two market women about him as he marched past them one day. "Hegh sirs!" said one, shaking her head significantly. "And he's weel put on too!" rejoined the other, surprised that one who appeared from his dress to be likely to have friends should be left by them to walk abroad alone.

There were five Commissioners in the Scotch Board of Customs, but Smith's colleagues were none of them men of any public reputation at the time, and they are now mere names; but the name of the Secretary of the Board, R.E. Phillips, may be mentioned for the circumstance that, after living to the great age of 104, he was buried—for what reason I know not—in the same grave with Adam Smith in Canongate Churchyard. The business of the office was mostly of a routine and simple character: considering appeals from merchants against the local collector's assessments; the appointment of a new officer here, the suppression of one there; a report on a projected colliery; a plan for a lighthouse, a petition from a wine importer, or the owner of a bounty sloop; a representation about the increase of illicit trade in Orkney, or the appearance of smuggling vessels in the Minch; the despatch of troops to repress illegal practices at some distillery, or to watch a suspected part of the coast; the preparation of the annual returns of income and expenditure, the payment of salaries, and transmission of the balance to the Treasury.

Smith attended to those duties with uncommon diligence; he says himself, in his letter to the Principal of Glasgow College in 1787 on his appointment to the Rectorship, that he was so regular an attendant at the Custom House that he could "take the play for a week at any time" without giving offence or provoking comment. He was evidently a very conscientious and on the whole, no doubt, a satisfactory administrator, though he may have been in some things slower than a clerk bred to business would have been, and caused occasionally a ludicrous mistake through his incidental absence of mind. Sir Walter Scott relates two anecdotes illustrative of that weakness, on the authority of one of Smith's colleagues on the Board of Customs. Having one day to sign an official document as Commissioner, Smith, instead of signing his own name, wrote an imitation of the signature of the Commissioner who had written before him. The other story, though, possibly enough, embellished unconsciously by the teller in some details, is yet of too distinct and peculiar a character to be easily rejected, and for the same reason will best be given in Scott's own words:—

"That Board (the Board of Customs) had in their service as porter a stately person, who, dressed in a huge scarlet gown or cloak covered with frogs of worsted lace, and holding in his hand a staff about seven feet high as an emblem of his office, used to mount guard before the Custom House when a Board was to be held. It was the etiquette that as each Commissioner entered the porter should go through a sort of salute with his staff of office, resembling that which officers used formerly to perform through their spontoon, and then marshal the dignitary to the hall of meeting. This ceremony had been performed before the great economist perhaps five hundred times. Nevertheless one day, as he was about to enter the Custom House, the motions of this janitor seem to have attracted his eye without their character or purpose reaching his apprehension, and on a sudden he began to imitate his gestures as a recruit does those of his drill serjeant. The porter having drawn up in front of the door, presented his staff as a soldier does his musket. The Commissioner, raising his cane and holding it with both hands by the middle, returned the salute with the utmost gravity. The inferior officer, much annoyed, levelled his weapon, wheeled to the right, stepping a pace back to give the Commissioner room to pass, lowering his staff at the same time in token of obeisance. Dr. Smith, instead of passing on, drew up on the opposite side and lowered his cane to the same angle. The functionary, much out of consequence, next moved upstairs with his staff upraised, while the author of the Wealth of Nations followed with his bamboo in precisely the same posture, and his whole soul apparently wrapped in the purpose of placing his foot exactly on the same spot of each step which had been occupied by the officer who preceded him. At the door of the hall the porter again drew off, saluted with his staff, and bowed reverentially. The philosopher again imitated his motions, and returned his bow with the most profound gravity. When the Doctor entered the apartment the spell under which he seemed to act was entirely broken, and our informant, who, very much amused, had followed him the whole way, had some difficulty to convince him that he had been doing anything extraordinary."[287]

This inability to recollect in a completely waking state what had taken place during the morbid one separates this story from all the rest that are told of Smith's absence of mind. For his friends used always to observe of his fits of abstraction what a remarkable faculty he possessed of recovering, when he came to himself, long portions of the conversation that had been going on around him while his mind was absent. But here there is an entire break between the one state and the other; the case seems more allied to trance, though it doubtless had the same origin as the more ordinary fits of absence, and, like them, was only one of the penalties of that power of profound and prolonged concentration to which the world owes so much; it was thinker's cramp, if I may use the expression. In one way Smith took more interest in his official work than ordinary Commissioners would do, because he found it useful to his economic studies. In 1778 he wrote Sir John Sinclair, who had desired a loan of the French inquiry entitled Memoires concernant les Impositions, that "he had frequent occasion to consult the book himself both in the course of his private studies and in the business of his present employment," and Sir John states that Smith used to admit "that he derived great advantage from the practical information he derived by means of his official situation, and that he would not have otherwise known or believed how essential practical knowledge was to the thorough understanding of political subjects."[288] This is confirmed by the fact that most of the additions and corrections introduced into the third edition of the Wealth of Nations—the first published after his settlement in the Customs—are connected with that branch of the public service.

Still his friends were perhaps right in lamenting that the duties of this office, light though they really were, used up his time and energy too completely to permit his application to the great work on government which he had projected. "Though they required little exertion of thought, they were yet," says Dugald Stewart, "sufficient to waste his spirits and dissipate his attention; and now that his career is closed, it is impossible to reflect on the time they consumed without lamenting that it had not been employed in labours more profitable to the world and more equal to his mind. During the first years of his residence in this city his studies seemed to be entirely suspended, and his passion for letters served only to amuse his leisure and to animate his conversation. The infirmities of age, of which he very early began to feel the approach, reminded him at last, when it was too late, of what he yet owed to the public and to his own fame. The principal materials of the works which he had announced had been long ago collected, and little probably was wanting but a few years of health and retirement to bestow on them that systematical arrangement in which he delighted."[289]

His leisure seems to have been passed during these later years of his life very largely in the study of the Greek poets, and he frequently remarked to Dugald Stewart, when found in his library with Sophocles or Euripides open before him on the table, that of all the amusements of old age, the most grateful and soothing was the renewal of acquaintance with the favourite studies and the favourite authors of our youth.[290] Besides, the work of composition seems to have grown really more arduous to him. He was always a slow composer, and had never acquired increased facility from increased practice. Much of his time too was now given to the enjoyments of friendship. I have already mentioned his Sunday suppers, but besides these he founded, soon after settling in Edinburgh, in co-operation with the two friends who were his closest associates during the whole of this last period of his career—Black the chemist, and Hutton the geologist—a weekly dining club, which met every Friday at two o'clock in a tavern in the Grassmarket. Dr. Swediaur, the Paris physician, who spent some time in Edinburgh in 1784 making researches along with Cullen, and was made a member of this club during his stay, writes Jeremy Bentham: "We have a club here which consists of nothing but philosophers. Dr. Adam Smith, Cullen, Black, Mr. M'Gowan, etc., belong to it, and I am also a member of it. Thus I spend once a week in a most enlightened and agreeable, cheerful and social company." And of Smith, with whom he says he is intimately acquainted, he tells Bentham he "is quite our man"—in opinion and tendencies, I presume. Ferguson was a member of the club, though after being struck with paralysis in 1780 he never dined out; but among the constant attenders were Henry Mackenzie, Dugald Stewart, Professor John Playfair, Sir James Hall the geologist; Robert Adam, architect; Adam's brother-in-law, John Clerk of Eldin, inventor of the new system of naval tactics; and Lord Daer—the "noble youthful Daer"—who was the first lord Burns ever met, and taught the poet that in a lord he after all but "met a brither," with nothing uncommon about him,

Except good sense and social glee, An' (what surprised me) modesty.

Lord Daer was the eldest son of the fourth Earl of Selkirk, and, on the outbreak of the French Revolution, a few years after Burns met him, became one of the most ardent of the "Friends of the People"; and was intimate with Mirabeau, to whom he ventured to speak a word for the king's safety, and was told that the French would not commit the English blunder of cutting off their king's head, because that was the usual way to establish a despotism.[291] Great expectations were cherished of Lord Daer's future, but they were defeated by his premature death in 1794. The Mr. M'Gowan mentioned by Swediaur is little known now, but he was an antiquary and naturalist, a friend and correspondent of Shenstone, Pennant, and Bishop Percy. M'Gowan kept house with a friend of his youth, who had returned to him after long political exile, Andrew Lumisden, Prince Charlie's Secretary, who was also a warm friend of Smith, and whose portrait by Tassie is one of the few relics of Smith's household effects which still exist. Lumisden had been Hamilton of Bangour's companion in exile at Rouen, and was no doubt also a member of this club.

According to Playfair, the chief delight of the club was to listen to the conversation of its three founders. "As all the three possessed great talents, enlarged views, and extensive information, without any of the stateliness and formality which men of letters think it sometimes necessary to affect, as they were all three easily amused, and as the sincerity of their friendship had never been darkened by the least shade of envy, it would be hard to find an example where everything favourable to good society was more perfectly united, and everything adverse more entirely excluded."[292] This friendship of Smith, Black, and Hutton, if not so famous as the friendship between Smith and Hume, was not less really memorable. Each of them had founded—or done more than any other single person to found—a science; they may be called the fathers of modern chemistry, of modern geology, and of modern political economy; and for all their great achievements, they were yet men of the most unaffected simplicity of character. In other respects they were very different from one another, but their differences only knit them closer together, and made them more interesting to their friends.

Black was a man of fine presence and courtly bearing, grave, calm, polished, well dressed, speaking, what was then rare, correct English without a trace of Scotch accent, and always with sense and insight even in fields beyond his own. Smith used to say that he never knew a man with less nonsense in him than Dr. Black, and that he was often indebted to his better discrimination in the judgment of character, a point in which Smith, not only by the general testimony of his acquaintance, but by his own confession, was by no means strong, inasmuch as he was, as he acknowledges, too apt to form his opinion from a single feature. Now the judgment of character was, according to Robison, Black's very strongest point. "Indeed," says Robison, "were I to say what natural talent Dr. Black possessed in the most uncommon degree, I should say it was his judgment of human character, and a talent which he had of expressing his opinion in a single short phrase, which fixed it in the mind never to be forgotten."[293] He was a very brilliant lecturer, for Brougham, who had been one of his students, said that he had heard Pitt and Fox and Plunket, but for mere intellectual gratification he should prefer sitting again on the old benches of the chemistry classroom, "while the first philosopher of his age was the historian of his own discoveries"; and, adored as he was by his students, he was the object of scarce less veneration and pride to the whole body of his fellow-citizens. Lord Cockburn tells us how even the wildest boys used to respect Black. "No lad," says he, "could ever be irreverent towards a man so pale, so gentle, so elegant, and so illustrious."

Hutton was in many respects the reverse of Black. He was a dweller out of doors, a man of strong vitality and high spirits, careless of dress and appearance, setting little store by the world's prejudices or fashions, and speaking the broadest Scotch, but overflowing with views and speculations and fun, and with a certain originality of expression, often very piquant. Every face brightened, says Playfair, when Hutton entered a room. He had been bred a doctor, though he never practised, but, devoting himself to agriculture, had been for years one of the leading improvers of the Border counties, and is said, indeed, to have been the first man in Scotland to plough with a pair of horses and no driver, the old eight-ox plough being then in universal use. Between his early chemical studies and his later agricultural pursuits, his curiosity was deeply aroused as he walked about the fields and dales, not merely concerning the composition but the origin of the soils and rocks and minerals that lay in the crust of the globe, and he never ceased examining and speculating till he completed his theory of the earth which became a new starting-point for all subsequent geological research. He was a bold investigator, and Playfair distinguishes him finely in this respect from Black by remarking that "Dr. Black hated nothing so much as error, and Dr. Hutton nothing so much as ignorance. The one was always afraid of going beyond the truth, and the other of not reaching it." He went little into general society, but Playfair says that in the more private circles which he preferred he was the most delightful of companions.

The conversation of the club was often, as was to be expected from its composition, scientific, but Professor Playfair says it was always free, and never didactic or disputatious, and that "as the club was much the resort of the strangers who visited Edinburgh from any objects connected with art or with science, it derived from them an extraordinary degree of vivacity and interest."[294]

Its name was the Oyster Club, and it may be thought from that circumstance that those great philosophers did not spurn the delights of more ordinary mortals. But probably no three men could be found who cared less for the pleasures of the table. Hutton was an abstainer; Black a vegetarian, his usual fare being "some bread, a few prunes, and a measured quantity of milk diluted with water"; and as for Smith, his only weakness seems to have been for lump sugar, according to an anecdote preserved by Scott, which, trivial though it be, may be repeated here, under the shelter of the great novelist's example and of Smith's own biographical principle that nothing about a great man is too minute not to be worth knowing.

Scott, speaking apparently as an eye-witness, says: "We shall never forget one particular evening when he (Smith) put an elderly maiden lady who presided at the tea-table to sore confusion by neglecting utterly her invitation to be seated, and walking round and round the circle, stopping ever and anon to steal a lump from the sugar basin, which the venerable spinster was at length constrained to place on her own knee, as the only method of securing it from his uneconomical depredations. His appearance mumping the eternal sugar was something indescribable." It is probably the same story Robert Chambers gives in his Traditions of Edinburgh, and he makes the scene Smith's own parlour, and the elderly spinster his cousin, Miss Jean Douglas. It may have been so, for Scott, as a school companion of young David Douglas, would very likely have been occasionally at Panmure House.


[284] Nicholson's edition of Wealth of Nations, p. 8.

[285] Bonar's Catalogue of the Library of Adam Smith, p. viii.

[286] Smellie's Life of Smith, p. 297.

[287] Quarterly Review, xxxvi. 200.

[288] Sir J. Sinclair's Correspondence, i. 389.

[289] Stewart's Works, x. 73.

[290] Stewart's Life of Reid, sec. iii.

[291] Sinclair's Old Times and Distant Places, p. 7.

[292] Stewart's Life of Reid, sec. iii.

[293] Black's Works, I. xxxii.

[294] Transactions, R.S.E., v. 98.



Soon after Smith settled in Edinburgh he received from his old French friends, the Duchesse d'Enville and her son the Duc de la Rochefoucauld, a presentation copy of a new edition of their ancestor's Maximes, accompanied by the following letter from the Duke himself, in which he informs Smith of the interesting circumstance that, in spite of the way his famous ancestor is mentioned in the Theory of Moral Sentiments, he had himself at one time undertaken a translation of that work, and only abandoned the task when he found himself anticipated by the publication of the translation by Abbe Blavet in 1774. It is a little curious that a disciple of Quesnay, a regular frequenter of Mirabeau's economic dinners, should take no notice in his letter of Smith's greater work, so lately published.

PARIS, 3 mars 1778.

Le desir de se rappeller a votre souvenir, monsieur, quand on a eu l'honneur de vous connoitre doit vous paroitre fort naturel; permettez que nous saisissons pour cela, ma mere et moi, l'occasion d'une edition nouvelle des Maximes de la Rochefoucauld, dont nous prenons la liberte de vous offrir un exemplaire. Vous voyez que vous n'avons point de rancune, puisque le mal que vous avez, dit de lui dans la Theorie des Sentimens Moraux ne nous empeche point de vous envoyer ce meme ouvrage. Il s'en est meme fallu de peu que je ne fisse encore plus, car j'avois eu peutetre la temerite d'entreprendre une traduction de votre Theorie; mais comme je venois de terminer la premiere partie, j'ai vu paroitre la traduction de M. l'Abbe Blavet, et j'ai ete force de renoncer au plaisir que j'aurois eu de faire passer dans ma langue un des meilleurs ouvrages de la votre.

Il auroit bien fallu pour lors entreprendre une justification de mon grandpere. Peutetre n'auroit-il pas ete difficile premierement de l'excuser, en disant, qu'il avoit toujours vu les hommes a la Cour, et dans la guerre civile, deux theatres sur lesquels ils sont certainement plus mauvais qu'ailleurs; et ensuite de justifier, par la conduite personnelle de l'auteur, les principes qui sont certainement trop generalises dans son ouvrage. Il a pris la partie pour le tout; et parceque les gens qu'il avoit eu le plus sous les yeux etoient animes par l'amour-propre, il en a fait le mobile general de tous les hommes. Au reste quoique son ouvrage merite a certains egards d'etre combattu, il est cependant estimable meme pour le fond, et beaucoup pour la forme.

Permettez-moi de vous demander, si nous aurons bientot une edition complete des oeuvres de votre illustre ami M. Hume? Nous l'avons sincerement regrette.

Recevez, je vous supplie, l'expression sincere de tous les sentimens d'estime et d'attachement avec lesquels j'ai l'honneur d'etre, monsieur, votre tres humble et tres obeissant serviteur,


What immediate answer Smith gave to this letter is unknown, and he certainly suffered the offending allusion to his correspondent's ancestor to remain unmodified in the new edition of the Theory which appeared in 1781, but eventually at any rate he came to think that he had done the author of the Maximes an injustice by associating him in the same condemnation with Mandeville, and when Dugald Stewart visited Paris in 1789 he was commissioned by Smith to express to the Duc de la Rochefoucauld his sincere regret for having done so, and to inform him that the error would be repaired in the forthcoming edition of the work, which was at that time in preparation.[296] This was done. In that final edition the allusion to Rochefoucauld was entirely suppressed, and the censure confined to Mandeville alone.

While Smith's French friends were remonstrating with him about an incidental allusion in the Theory of Moral Sentiments, his old friend, Lord Kames—still at eighty-three as keen for metaphysical controversy as he had been with Bishop Butler sixty years before—was preparing an elaborate attack upon the theory of the book itself, which he proposed to incorporate in a new edition of his own Principles of Morality and Religion. Before publishing this examination of the theory, however, he sent the manuscript to Smith for perusal, and received the following reply:—

16th November 1778.

MY DEAR LORD—I am much obliged to you for the kind communication of the objections you propose to make in yr. new edition to my system. Nothing can be more perfectly friendly and polite than the terms in which you express yourself with regard to me, and I should be extremely peevish and ill-tempered if I could make the slightest opposition to their publication. I am no doubt extremely sorry to find myself of a different opinion both from so able a judge of the subject and from so old and good a friend; but differences of this kind are inevitable, and besides, Partium contentionibus respublica crescit. I should have been waiting on your Lordship before this time, but the remains of a cold have for these four or five days past made it inconvenient for me to go out in the evening. Remember me to Mrs. Drummond,[297] and believe me to be, my dear Lord, your most obliged and most humble servant,


Smith had most probably discussed the merits of Lord Kames's objections with his lordship already, so that he saw no occasion to reply to them in his letter. What Kames principally combated was the idea that sympathy with the sufferings of another originated in any way in our imagining what would be our own feelings if we were in the sufferer's place. He contends, on the contrary, that it is excited directly by the perception of the screams, contortions, tears, or other outward signs of the pain that is endured; and that trying to put ourselves in the sufferer's place produces really a self-satisfaction, on account of our own immunity from his troubles, which has the effect not of awakening the feeling of pity but of moderating and diminishing it.

A second objection he raises is that if Smith's theory were true, those in whom the power of imagination was strongest would feel the force of the moral duties most sensibly, and vice versa, which, he says, is contradicted by experience. His last objection is that while the theory proposes to explain the origin of the moral sentiments so far as they respect other persons, it fails entirely to account for those sentiments in regard to ourselves. Our distress on losing an only son and our gratitude for a kindly office neither need to be explained nor can they be explained by imagining ourselves to be other persons.

One of the first acquaintances Smith made in Edinburgh was a young Caithness laird who was presently to make a considerable figure in public life—the patriotic and laborious Sir John Sinclair, founder of the Board of Agriculture, promoter of the Statistical Account of Scotland, and author of the History of the Public Revenue, the Code of Agriculture, the Code of Health, and innumerable pamphlets on innumerable subjects. Sinclair was not yet in Parliament when Smith came to Edinburgh in the end of 1777, but his hands were already full of serious work. He was busy with his History of the Public Revenue, in which Smith gave him every assistance in his power, and he had actually finished a treatise on the Christian Sabbath, which, in deference to Smith's advice, he never gave to the press. The object of this treatise was to show that the puritanical Sabbath observance of Scotland had no countenance in Holy Scripture, and that, while part of the day ought certainly to be devoted to divine service, the rest might be usefully employed in occupations of a character not strictly religious without infringing any divine law. When the work was completed, Sinclair showed the manuscript to Smith, who dissuaded him strongly from printing it. "Your work, Mr. Sinclair," said he, "is very ably written, but I advise you not to publish it, for rest assured that the Sabbath as a political institution is of inestimable value independently of its claim to divine authority."[298]

One day Sinclair brought Smith the news of the surrender of Burgoyne at Saratoga in October 1777, and exclaimed in the deepest concern that the nation was ruined. "There is a great deal of ruin in a nation," was Smith's calm reply. In November 1778 Sinclair wanted Smith to send him to Thurso Castle the loan of the important French book on contemporary systems of taxation, which is so often quoted in the Wealth of Nations—the Memoires concernant les Impositions—and of which only 100 copies were originally printed, and only four apparently found their way to this country. Smith naturally hesitated to send so rare a book so far, but promised his young correspondent to give him, when he returned to Edinburgh, not only that book but everything else, printed or written, which he possessed on the subject. Smith's letter is as follows:—

Mr. Smith presents his most respectful compliments to Mr. Sinclair of Ulbster.

The Memoires sur les Finances[299] are engaged for four months to come to Mr. John Davidson;[300] when he is done with them Mr. Smith would be very happy to accommodate Mr. Sinclair, but acknowledges he is a little uneasy about the safety of the conveyance and the greatness of the distance. He has frequent occasion to consult the book himself, both in the course of his private studies and in the business of his present employment, and is therefore not very willing to let it go out of Edinburgh. The book was never properly published, but there were a few more copies printed than was necessary for the Commission, for whose use it was compiled.

One of these I obtained by the particular favour of Mr. Turgot, the late Controller-General of the Finances. I have heard but of three copies in Great Britain: one belongs to a noble lord, who obtained it by connivance, as he told me;[301] one is in the Secretary of State's office, and the third belongs to a private gentleman. How these two were obtained I know not, but suspect it was in the same manner. If any accident should happen to my book, the loss is perfectly irreparable. When Mr. Sinclair comes to Edinburgh I shall be very happy to communicate to him not only that book, but everything else I have upon the subject, both printed and manuscript, and am, with the highest respect for his character, his most obedient humble servant,


EDINBURGH, 24th November 1778.[302]

The Memoires was printed in 1768, but it may be reasonably inferred, from Smith's account of the extreme difficulty of getting a copy, that he only obtained his in 1774, on the advent of Turgot to power. If that be so, much in the chapters on taxation in the Wealth of Nations must have been written in London after that date.

Sir John's biographer quotes a passage from another letter of Smith in connection with his correspondent's financial studies. This letter—which Archdeacon Sinclair describes as a "holograph letter in six folio pages"—is no longer extant, but it concluded with the following remarks on the taxation of the necessaries and luxuries of the poor:—

I dislike all taxes that may affect the necessary expenses of the poor. They, according to circumstances, either oppress the people immediately subject to them, or are repaid with great interest by the rich, i.e. by their employers in the advanced wages of their labour. Taxes on the luxuries of the poor, upon their beer and other spirituous liquors, for example, as long as they are so moderate as not to give much temptation to smuggling, I am so far from disapproving, that I look upon them as the best of sumptuary laws.

I could write a volume upon the folly and the bad effects of all the legal encouragements that have been given either to the linen manufacture or to the fisheries.—I have the honour to be, with most sincere regard, my dear friend, most affectionately yours,



[295] Stewart's Works, x. 46.

[296] Ibid., v. 256.

[297] Mrs. Drummond is Lord Kames's wife. She had succeeded to the estate of her father, Mr. Drummond of Blair Drummond, and having along with her husband assumed her father's surname in addition to her own, was now Mrs. Home Drummond. It may perhaps be necessary to add that the title of a Scotch judge is not extended, even by courtesy, to his wife.

[298] Sinclair's Memoirs of Sir John Sinclair, i. 36.

[299] Smith, writing from memory and without the book at hand, makes a verbal mistake in the title.

[300] Doubtless John Davidson, W.S., a well-known antiquary of the period, who is mentioned favourably in the preface to Robertson's History of Scotland as a special authority on certain facts of the life of Mary Stuart.

[301] Probably Lord Rosslyn, for Bentham, in writing to advise Lord Shelburne to procure a copy of this book, mentions that he knew Lord Rosslyn had a copy, which he had obtained from Mr. Anstruther, M.P., who happened to be in Paris when it was printed, and contrived to get a copy somehow there.

[302] Sir J. Sinclair's Correspondence, i. 388.

[303] Sinclair's Life of Sir J. Sinclair, i. 39.




In 1779 Smith was consulted by various members of the Government with respect to the probable effects of the contemplated concession of free trade to Ireland, and two letters of Smith still remain—one to the Earl of Carlisle, First Lord of Trade and Plantations, and the other to Henry Dundas—which state his views on this subject. A few preliminary words will explain the situation. The policy of commercial restriction has probably never been used with more cruelty or more disaster than it was used against the people of Ireland between the Restoration and the Union. They were not allowed to trade as they would with Great Britain or her colonies, because they were aliens, and they were not allowed to trade as they would with foreign countries, because they were British subjects. There were various industries they had special advantages for establishing, but the moment they began to export the products the English Parliament, or their own Irish Parliament under English influence, closed the markets against them. Living in an excellent grazing country, their first great product was cattle, and the export of cattle was prohibited. When stopped from sending live meat, they tried to send dead, but the embargo was promptly extended to salt provisions. Driven from cattle, they betook themselves to sheep, and sent over wool; that was stopped, allowed, and stopped again. When their raw wool was denied a market, they next tried cloth, but England then bargained for the suppression of the chief branches of Irish woollen manufacture by promising Ireland a monopoly of the manufacture of linen. Other infant industries which gave signs of growing to prosperity were by the same means crushed in the cradle, and Ireland was in consequence never able to acquire that nest-egg of industrial capital and training which England won in the eighteenth century.

All this systematic oppression of national industry had produced its natural fruit in a distressing scarcity of employment, and in 1778, though it was a year of plenty, and meal was at its cheapest, many thousands of the population were starving because they had not the means to buy it; the farmers were unable to pay their rents because they got such poor prices; processions of unemployed paraded the streets of Dublin carrying a black fleece in token of their want; and the Viceroy from the Castle warned the English ministry that an enlargement of the trade of Ireland had become a matter of the merest necessity, without which she could never pay her national obligations to the English Exchequer.

But it was neither the voice of justice nor the cry of distress that moved the Government; it was the alarm of external danger. The strength of England was then strained as it has never been before or since in an unequal war with the combined forces of France, Spain, and America, and it was no time either to feed or to neglect discontent at home. Ireland had already sent many recruits to the revolutionary army in America, and at this very moment the Irish Protestants, incensed at the indifference of Government to the protection of their ports, had, under the lead of Lord Charlemont, raised an illegal army of 42,000 volunteers, and placed them under arms without the consent of the Crown.

The demand of free trade for Ireland came therefore with sanctions that could not be ignored, and Lord North's first idea was to give Ireland the same rights of trading with the colonies and foreign countries as England enjoyed, except in the two particulars of the export of wool and glass and the import of tobacco. This proposal was not satisfactory to the Irish, because it failed to remove their chief grievance, the restriction on their trade in woollen goods, but it provoked a storm of indignation in Liverpool, Manchester, Glasgow, and all the great manufacturing and trading centres of Great Britain. They petitioned the Government declaring that the proposed measure would ruin them, for a reason with which we are still very familiar, because it would be impossible for any English or Scotch manufacturer to compete against the pauper labour of Ireland. Lord North, frightened, as Burke said, into some concessions by the menaces of Ireland, was now frightened out of them again by the menaces of England, and he cut down his original proposals till the Irish thought he was merely trifling with their troubles, and their whole island was aflame. Associations were formed, commotions broke out; a great meeting in Dublin in April 1779 pledged itself to buy nothing of English or Scotch manufacture; many of the county meetings instructed their representatives in Parliament to vote no money bill for more than six months till Irish grievances were redressed; and the Lord-Lieutenant wrote the Government that popular discontent was seriously increasing, that French and American emissaries were actively abroad, that the outlook was black indeed if next session of Parliament passed without giving the Irish a satisfactory measure of free trade, and that "nothing short of permission to export coarse woollen goods would in any degree give general satisfaction."

As soon as the Irish Parliament met in October a new member of the House, who was presently to become a new power in the country, Henry Grattan, rose and moved an amendment to the address, urging the necessity for a free export trade; and the amendment was, on the suggestion of Flood, extended to a general demand for free trade, including imports as well as exports, and in this form was carried without a division. The reply to the address, however, seemed studiously ambiguous, and inflamed the prevailing discontent. On King William's birthday the statue of that monarch in Dublin was hung over with expressive placards, and the city volunteers turned out and paraded round it; a few days later a mob from the Liberties attacked the house of the Attorney-General, and proceeding to Parliament, swore all the members they found to vote only short money bills till free trade were conceded; and then Grattan, in his place in the House, carried by three to one a resolution to grant no new taxes and to give only six months' bills for the appropriated duties.

The Government was now thoroughly alarmed; they must at last face the question of free trade for Ireland in dead earnest, and applied themselves without delay to learn from all who understood the subject what would be the real effect on England of removing the Irish restrictions. They requested many of the leading public men whom they trusted in Ireland—Lord Lifford, Hely Hutchinson, Henry Burgh, and others—to prepare detailed statements of their views on the commercial grievances of their country and the operation of the proposed remedies. Mr. Lecky, who has seen those statements at the Record Office, says they are conspicuous for their clear grasp of the principles of free trade, and I think that they may with great probability be considered a fruit of Smith's then recently published work, because Hely Hutchinson's statement, or its substance, has been published—it was, indeed, the last book publicly burned in this country—and it makes frequent quotations from the Wealth of Nations. It was in these circumstances that the Board of Trade made a double application to Adam Smith for his opinion on the subject. Lord Carlisle, the head of the Board, applied to him through Adam Ferguson, who had been Secretary of the Commission, of which Lord Carlisle had been President, sent out to America the year before to negotiate terms of peace; and Mr. William Eden, Secretary of the Board, applied to him through Henry Dundas. With Eden (afterwards the first Lord Auckland) Smith became later on well acquainted; he was married in 1776 to a daughter of Smith's old friend, Sir Gilbert Elliot, but at the date of this correspondence their personal acquaintance does not seem to have been intimate.

Smith's letter to Lord Carlisle is as follows:—

MY LORD—My friend Mr. Ferguson showed me a few days ago a letter in which your Lordship was so good as to say that you wished to know my opinion concerning the consequence of granting to the Irish that free trade which they at present demand so importunately. I shall not attempt to express how much I feel myself flattered by your Lordship's very honourable remembrance of me, but shall without further preface endeavour to explain that opinion, such as it may be, as distinctly as I can.

Till we see the heads of the bill which the Irish propose to send over, it is impossible to know precisely what they mean by a free trade.

It is possible they may mean by it no more than the freedom of exporting all goods, whether of their own produce or imported from abroad, to all countries (Great Britain and the British settlements excepted) subject to no other duties or restraints than such as their own Parliament may impose. At present they can export glass, tho' of their own manufacture, to no country whatever. Raw silk, a foreign commodity, is under the same restraint. Wool they can export only to Great Britain. Woollen manufactures they can export only from certain ports in Ireland to certain ports in Great Britain. A very slender interest of our own manufacturers is the foundation of all these unjust and oppressive restraints. The watchful jealousy of those gentlemen is alarmed least the Irish, who have never been able to supply compleatly even their own market with glass or woollen manufactures, should be able to rival them in foreign markets.

The Irish may mean by a free trade to demand, besides, the freedom of importing from wherever they can buy them cheapest all such foreign goods as they have occasion for. At present they can import glass, sugars of foreign plantations, except those of Spain or Portugal, and certain sorts of East India goods, from no country but Great Britain. Tho' Ireland was relieved from these and from all restraints of the same kind, the interest of Great Britain could surely suffer very little. The Irish probably mean to demand no more than this most just and reasonable freedom of exportation and importation; in restraining which we seem to me rather to have gratified the impertinence than to have promoted any solid interest of our merchants and manufacturers.

The Irish may, however, mean to demand, besides, the same freedom of exportation and importation to and from the British settlements in Africa and America which is enjoyed by the inhabitants of Great Britain. As Ireland has contributed little either to the establishment or defence of these settlements, this demand would be less reasonable than the other two. But as I never believed that the monopoly of our Plantation trade was really advantageous to Great Britain, so I cannot believe that the admission of Ireland to a share in that monopoly, or the extension of this monopoly to all the British islands, would be really disadvantageous.

Over and above all this, the Irish may mean to demand the freedom of importing their own produce and manufactures into Great Britain, subject to no other duties than such as are equivalent to the duties imposed upon the like goods of British produce or manufacture. Tho' even this demand, the most unreasonable of all, should be granted, I cannot believe that the interest of Britain would be hurt by it. On the contrary, the competition of Irish goods in the British market might contribute to break down in part that monopoly which we have most absurdly granted to the greater part of our own workmen against ourselves. It would, however, be a long time before this competition could be very considerable. In the present state of Ireland centuries must pass away before the greater part of its manufactures could vie with those of England. Ireland has little coal, the coallieries about Lough Neagh being of little consequence to the greater part of the country; it is ill provided with wood: two articles essentially necessary to the progress of great manufactures. It wants order, police, and a regular administration of justice, both to protect and to restrain the inferior ranks of people: articles more essential to the progress of industry than both coal and wood put together, and which Ireland must continue to want as long as it continues to be divided between two hostile nations, the oppressors and the oppressed, the Protestants and the Papists. Should the industry of Ireland, in consequence of freedom and good government, ever equal that of England, so much the better would it be not only for the whole British Empire, but for the particular province of England. As the wealth and industry of Lancashire does not obstruct but promote that of Yorkshire, so the wealth and industry of Ireland would not obstruct but promote that of England.

It makes me very happy to find that in the midst of the public misfortunes a person of your Lordship's rank and elevation of mind doth not despair of the commonwealth, but is willing to accept of an active share in administration. That your Lordship may be the happy means of restoring vigour and decision to our counsels, and in consequence of them, success to our arms, is the sincere wish of, my Lord, your Lordship's most obliged and most obedient servant,


EDINBURGH, 8th November 1779.

The letter to Dundas was published in the English Historical Review for April 1886 (p. 308), by Mr. Oscar Browning, from a copy in the Auckland papers then in his possession. Mr. Browning gives at the same time the previous letters of Dundas to Eden and Smith respectively. To Eden he writes:—

MELVILLE, 30th October 1779.

MY DEAR SIR—I received yours last night and have sent it this morning to Smith. When I see or hear from him you shall hear again from me upon the different parts of your letter. The enclosed is a copy of my letter to Smith, which will show you what are my present crude ideas upon the subject of Ireland.—Yours faithfully,


His letter to Smith is as follows:—

MELVILLE, 30th October 1779.

DEAR SIR—I received the enclosed last night from Mr. Eden. The questions he puts would require a Volume to answer them in place of a Letter. Think of it, however, and let me have your ideas upon it. For my own part I confess myself little alarmed about what others seem so much alarmed. I doubt much if a free trade to Ireland is so very much to be dreaded. There is trade enough in the World for the Industry both of Britain and Ireland, and if two or three places either in South or North Britain should suffer some damage, which, by the bye, will be very gradual, from the loss of their monopoly, that is a very small consideration in the general scale and policy of the country. The only thing to be guarded against is the people in Ireland being able to undersell us in foreign mercates from the want of taxes and the cheapness of Labour. But a wise statesman will be able to regulate that by proper distribution of taxes upon the materials and commodities of the respective Countrys. I believe a Union would be best if it can be accomplished; if not the Irish Parliament might be managed by the proper distribution of the Loaves and Fishes, so that the Legislatures of the two countrys may act in union together. In short, it has long appeared to me that the bearing down of Ireland was in truth bearing down a substantial part of the Naval and Military strength of our own Country. Indeed, it has often shocked me in the House of Commons for these two years past, when anything was hinted in favour of Ireland by friends of giving them only the benefit of making the most of what their soil and climate afforded them, to hear it received as a sufficient answer that a town in England or Scotland would be hurt by such an Indulgence. This kind of reasoning will no longer do. But I find, in place of asking yours, I am giving you my opinion. So adieu.—Yours sincerely,


To this manly, but somewhat inconsistent letter, acknowledging the full right of a people to make the most of what their soil and climate afforded, but yet afraid to give them the whole advantage of their cheapness of labour, Smith sent the following reply, probably on the 1st of November:—

MY DEAR LORD[305]—I am very happy to find that Your Lordship's opinion concerning the circumstance of granting a free trade to Ireland coincides so perfectly with my own. I cannot believe that the manufacturers of Great Britain can for a century to come suffer much from the Rivalship of those of Ireland, even though the Irish should be indulged in a free trade. Ireland has neither the skill nor the stock which would enable Her to rival England, and tho' both may be acquired in time, to acquire them completely will require the opperation of little less than a Century. Ireland has neither Coal nor wood; the former seems to have been denied to her by nature; and though her Soil and Climate are perfectly suited for raising the Latter, yet to raise it to the same degree as in England will require more than a Century. I perfectly agree with your Lordship too that to Crush the Industry of so great and so fine a Province of the Empire in order to favour the monopoly of some particular Towns in Scotland or England is equally injurious and impolitic. The general opulence and improvement of Ireland must certainly, under proper management, afford much greater Resources to Government than can ever be drawn from a few mercantile or manufacturing Towns.

Till the Irish Parliament sends over the Heads of their proposed Bill, it may perhaps be uncertain what they understand by a Free Trade.

They may perhaps understand by it no more than the power of exporting their own produce to the foreign country where they can find the best mercate. Nothing can be more just and reasonable than this demand, nor can anything be more unjust and unreasonable than some of the restraints which their Industry in this respect at present labours under. They are prohibited under the heaviest penalties to export Glass to any Country. Wool they can export only to Great Britain. Woolen goods they can export only from certain Ports in their own Country and to certain Ports in Great Britain.

They may mean to demand the Power of importing such foods as they have occasion for from any Country where they can find them cheapest, subject to no other duties and restraints than such as may be imposed by their own Parliament. This freedom, tho' in my opinion perfectly reasonable, will interfere a little with some of our paltry monopolies. Glass, Hops, Foreign Sugars, several sorts of East Indian goods can at present be imported only from Great Britain.

They may mean to demand a free trade to our American and African Plantations, free from the restraints which the 18th of the present King imposed upon it, or at least from some of those restraints, such as the prohibition of exporting thither their own Woolen and Cotton manufactures, Glass, Hatts, Hops, Gunpowder, etc. This freedom, tho' it would interfere with some of our monopolies, I am convinced, would do no harm to Great Britain. It would be reasonable, indeed, that whatever goods were exported from Ireland to these Plantations should be subject to the like duties as those of the same kind exported from England in the terms of the 18th of the present King.

They may mean to demand a free trade to Great Britain, their manufactures and produce when Imported into this country being subjected to no other duties than the like manufactures and produce of our own. Nothing, in my opinion, would be more highly advantageous to both countries than this mutual freedom of trade. It would help to break down that absurd monopoly which we have most absurdly established against ourselves in favour of almost all the different Classes of our own manufacturers.

Whatever the Irish mean to demand in this way, in the present situation of our affairs I should think it madness not to grant it. Whatever they may demand, our manufacturers, unless the leading and principal men among them are properly dealt with beforehand, will probably oppose it. That they may be so dealt with I know from experience, and that it may be done at little expense and with no great trouble. I could even point to some persons who, I think, are fit and likely to deal with them successfully for this purpose. I shall not say more upon this till I see you, which I shall do the first moment I can get out of this Town.

I am much honoured by Mr. Eden's remembrance of me. I beg you will present my most respectful compliments to him, and that you will believe me to be, my dear Lord, most faithfully yours,


1st November 1779.

I cannot explain the allusion in the closing parts of the letter to the writer's personal experience of the ease with which the opposition of manufacturers to proposed measures of public policy could be averted by sagacious management and a little expenditure of money. Nor can I say what persons he had in view to recommend as likely to do this work successfully; but his advice seems to imply that he agreed with the political maxim that the opposition of the pocket is best met through the pocket.

He takes no notice of Dundas's suggestion of a union with Great Britain, but we know from the Wealth of Nations that he was a strong advocate of a union—not, of course, on Dundas's ground that a union would better enable the English Parliament to counteract the effects of the competition of Irish pauper labour, but for a reason which will sound curiously perhaps in the middle of our present agitations, that a union would deliver the Irish people from the tyranny of an oppressive aristocracy, which was the great cause of that kingdom being then divided into "two hostile nations," to use his words to Lord Carlisle, "the oppressors and the oppressed." He avers in the Wealth of Nations that "without a union with Great Britain the inhabitants of Ireland are not likely for many ages to consider themselves one people."[306]


[304] Morrison MSS.

[305] The Lord Advocate is usually addressed as My Lord.

[306] Book V. chap. iii.



While these communications with leading statesmen were showing the impression the Wealth of Nations had made in this country, Smith was receiving equally satisfactory proofs of its recognition abroad. The book had been translated into Danish by F. Draebye, and the translation published in two volumes in 1779-80. Apparently the translator was contemplating the publication of a second edition, for he communicated with Smith through a Danish friend, desiring to know what alterations Smith proposed to make in his second edition, of whose appearance the translator had manifestly not heard. Smith thereupon wrote Strahan the following letter, asking him to send a copy of the second edition to Draebye:—

DEAR SIR—I think it is predestined that I shall never write to you except to ask some favour of you or to put you to some trouble. This letter is not to depart from the style of all the rest. I am a subscriber for Watt's Copying Machine. The price is six guineas for the machine and five shillings for the packing-box; I should be glad too he would send me a ream of the copying paper, together with all the other specimens of ink, etc., which commonly accompany the machine. For payment of this to Mr. Woodmason, the seller, whose printed letter I have enclosed, you will herewith receive a bill of eight Guineas payable at sight. If, after paying for all these, there should be any remnant, there is a tailour in Craven Street, one Heddington, an acquaintance of James M'Pherson, to whom I owe some shillings, I believe under ten, certainly under twenty; pay him what I owe. He is a very honest man, and will ask no more than is due. Before I left London I had sent several times for his account, but he always put it off.

I had almost forgot I was the author of the inquiry concerning the Wealth of Nations, but some time ago I received a letter from a friend in Denmark telling me that it had been translated into Danish by one Mr. Dreby, secretary to a new erected board of trade and Economy in that Kingdom. My correspondent, Mr. Holt, who is an assessor of that Board, desires me, in the name of Mr. Dreby, to know what alterations I propose to make in a second Edition. The shortest answer to this is to send them the second edition. I propose, therefore, by this Post to desire Mr. Cadell to send three copies of the second Edition, handsomely bound and gilt, to Mr. Anker, Consul-General of Denmark, who is an old acquaintance—one for himself and the other two to be by him transmitted to Mr. Holt and Mr. Dreby. At our final settlement I shall debit myself with these three Books. I suspect I am now almost your only customer for my own book. Let me know, however, how matters go on in this respect.

After begging your pardon a thousand times for having so long neglected to write you, I shall conclude with assuring you that notwithstanding this neglect I have the highest respect and esteem for you and for your whole family, and that I am, most sincerely and affectionately, ever yours,


EDINBURGH, CANONGATE, 26 Oct. 1780.[307]

As this Danish translation has come up, it may be mentioned here that the Wealth of Nations had already been translated into several other languages. The Abbe Blavet's French version ran through the pages of the Journal de l'Agriculture, des Commerce, des Finances, et des Arts month by month in the course of the years 1779 and 1780, and was then published in book form in 1781. This was not a satisfactory translation, though through mere priority of occupation it held the field for a number of years and went through a number of editions. In 1790 a second translation appeared by Roucher and the Marquise de Condorcet, and in 1802 a third, the best, by Germain Garnier. Smith's own friend Morellet, receiving a presentation copy from the author through Lord Shelburne on its publication, carried it with him to Brienne, the seat of his old Sorbonne comrade the Archbishop of Toulouse, and set at work to translate it there. But he tells us himself that the ex-Benedictine Abbe (Blavet), who had formerly murdered the Theory of Moral Sentiments by a bad translation, anticipated him by his equally bad translation of the Wealth of Nations; and so, adds Morellet, "poor Smith was again betrayed instead of being translated, according to the Italian proverb, Tradottore traditore."[308] Morellet still thought, however, of publishing his own version, offering it to the booksellers first for 100 louis-d'or and then for nothing, and many years afterwards he asked his friend the Archbishop of Toulouse, when he had become Minister of France, for a grant of 100 louis to pay for its production, but was as unsuccessful with the Minister as he was with the booksellers. All the good Abbe says is that he is sure the money would have been well spent, because the translation was carefully done, and he knew the subject better than any of the other translators. Everything that was abstract in the theory of Smith was, he says, quite unintelligible in Blavet's translation, and even in Roucher's subsequent one, and could be read to more advantage in his own; but after a good translation was published by Garnier in 1802, the Abbe gave up all thought of giving his to the press.

A German translation by J.F. Schuler appeared, the first volume in 1776 and the second in 1778, but Roscher says it is worse done than Blavet's translation; and little attention was paid to Smith or his work in Germany until about the close of the century, when a new translation was published by Professor Garve, the metaphysician. Roscher observes that neither Frederick the Great nor the Emperor Joseph, nor any of the princes who patronised the Physiocrats so much, paid the least heed to the Wealth of Nations; that in the German press it was neither quoted nor confuted, but merely ignored; and that he himself had taken the trouble to look through the economic literature published between 1776 and 1794, to discover any marks of the reception of the book, and found that Smith's name was very seldom mentioned, and then without any idea of his importance. One spot ought to be excepted—the little kingdom of Hanover, which, from its connection with the English Crown, participated in the contemporary French complaint of Anglomania. Goettingen had its influential school of admirers of English institutions and literature; the Wealth of Nations was reviewed in the Gelehrte Anzeigen of Goettingen early in 1777, and one of the professors of the University there announced a course of lectures upon it in the winter session of 1777-78.[309] But before Smith died his work was beginning to be clearly understood among German thinkers. Gentz, the well-known politician, writes a friend in December 1790 that he had been reading the book for the third time, and thought it "far the most important work which is written in any language on this subject";[310] and Professor C.J. Kraus writes Voigt in 1796 that the world had never seen a more important work, and that no book since the New Testament has produced more beneficial effects than this book would produce when it got better known. A few years later it was avowedly shaping the policy of Stein.

It was translated into Italian in 1780, and in Spain it had the curious fortune of being suppressed by the Inquisition on account of "the lowness of its style and the looseness of its morals." Sir John Macpherson—Warren Hastings' successor as Governor-General of India—writes Gibbon as if he saw the sentence of the Inquisition posted on the church doors in a Spanish tour he made in 1792;[311] but a change must have speedily come over the censorial mind, for a Spanish translation by J.A. Ortez was published in four volumes in 1794, with additions relating to Spain.

Smith continued, as he says, to be a good customer for his own book. There is another letter which, though undated and unaddressed, was evidently written about this time to Cadell, directing presentation copies of both his books to be sent to Mrs. Ross of Crighton, the wife of his own "very near relation," Colonel Patrick Ross.

DEAR SIR—Mrs. Ross of Crighton, now living in Welbeck Street, is my particular friend, and the wife of Lieutenant-Collonel (sic) Patrick Ross, in the service of the East India Company, my very near relation. When she left this she seemed to intimate that she wished to have a copy of my last book from the author. May I therefore beg the favour of you to send her a copy of both my books, viz. of the Theory of Moral Sentiments and of the Enquiry concerning the "Wealth of Nations," handsomely bound and gilt, placing the same to my account, and writing upon the blank-leaf of each, From the Authour. Be so good as to remember me to Mrs. Cadell, Mr. Strahan and family, and all other friends, and believe me, ever yours,


Smith's new duties did not pre-engage his pen from higher work altogether, for before the close of 1782 he had written some considerable additions to the Wealth of Nations, which he proposed to insert in the third edition, among them a history of the trading companies of Great Britain, including, no doubt, his history of the East India Company, which Mr. Thorold Rogers supposed him to have written ten years before and kept in his desk. He writes Cadell on the 7th December 1782:—

I have many apologies to make to you for my idleness since I came to Scotland. The truth is, I bought at London a good many partly new books or editions that were new to me, and the amusement I found in reading and diverting myself with them debauched me from my proper business, the preparing a new edition of the Wealth of Nations. I am now, however, heartily engaged at my proper work, and I hope in two or three months to send you up the second edition corrected in many places, with three or four very considerable additions, chiefly to the second volume. Among the rest is a short but, I flatter myself, a complete history of all the trading companies in Great Britain. These additions I mean not only to be inserted at their proper places into the new edition, but to be printed separately and to be sold for a shilling or half-a-crown to the purchasers of the old edition. The price must depend on the bulk of the additions when they are all written out. It would give me great satisfaction if you would let me know by the return of the Post if this delay will not be inconvenient. Remember me to Strahan. He will be so good as excuse my not writing to him, as I have nothing to say but what I have now said to you, and he knows my aversion to writing.[313]

The additions of which he speaks in this letter were published separately in 1783 in quarto, so as to suit the two previous editions of the work, and the new edition containing them was published in the end of 1784 in three volumes octavo, at the price of a guinea. The delay was due to booksellers' reasons. Dr. Swediaur, the eminent Paris physician, who was resident in Edinburgh at the time studying with Cullen, wrote Bentham in November 1784 that Smith, whom he used to see at least once a week, had shown him the new edition printed and finished, but had told him that Cadell would not publish it till all the people of fashion had arrived in London, and would then at once push a large sale. Swediaur adds that he found this was a bookseller's trick very generally practised, and of Smith himself he says he found him "a very unprejudiced and good man."[314]

The principal additions are the result of investigations to which he seems to have been prompted by current agitations of the stream of political opinion. He gives now, for example, a fuller account of the working of the bounty system in the Scotch fisheries, which was then the subject of a special parliamentary inquiry, and on which his experience as a Commissioner of Customs furnished him with many opportunities of gaining accurate information; and he enters on a careful examination of the chartered and regulated corporations, and especially of the East India Company, whose government of the great oriental dependency was at the moment a question of such urgency that Fox introduced his India Bill which killed the Coalition Ministry in 1783, and Pitt established the Board of Control in 1784.

The new matter contains two recommendations which have attracted comment as ostensible contraventions of free trade doctrine. One of them is the recommendation of a tax on the export of wool; but then the tax was to take the place of the absolute prohibition of the export which then existed, and it was not to be imposed for protectionist reasons, but for the simple financial purpose of raising a revenue. Smith thought few taxes would yield so considerable a revenue with so little inconvenience to anybody. The other supposed contravention of free trade doctrine is the sanction he lends to temporary commercial monopolies; but then this is avowedly a device for an exceptional situation in which a project promises great eventual benefit to the public, but the projectors might without the monopoly be debarred from undertaking it by the magnitude of the risk it involved. He places this temporary monopoly in the same category with authors' copyrights and inventors' patents; it was the easiest and most natural way of recompensing a projector for hazarding a dangerous and expensive experiment of which the public was afterwards to reap the benefit.[315] It was only to be granted for a fixed term, and upon proof of the ultimate advantage of the enterprise to the public.


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

[308] Morellet, Memoires, i. 244.

[309] Roscher, Geschichte, p. 599.

[310] Gentz, Briefe an Christian Garve, p. 63.

[311] Gibbon's Miscellaneous Works, ii. 479.

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

[313] Printed in a catalogue of a sale of autographs at Messrs. Sotheby, Wilkinson, and Hodge's on 26th and 27th November 1891.

[314] Add. MSS., 33,540.

[315] Wealth of Nations, Book V. chap. i.



In his letter to Cadell Smith reproaches himself with his idleness during his first few years in Edinburgh. He had bought a good many new books in London, or new editions of old ones, and, says he, "The amusement I found in reading and diverting myself with them debauched me from my proper business, the preparing a new edition of the Wealth of Nations." While he was engaged in this dissipation of miscellaneous reading a young interviewer from Glasgow, who happened to be much in his company in connection with business in the year 1780, elicited his opinions on most of the famous authors of the world, noted them down, and gave them to the public after Smith's death in the pages of the Bee for 1791. In introducing these recollections the editor of the Bee, Dr. James Anderson—author of Ricardo's rent theory—says that even if they had not been sent to him with the strongest assurances of authenticity, he could entertain no doubt on that point after their perusal from the coincidence of the opinions reported in them with those he himself had heard Smith express. The writer, who takes the name Amicus, describes himself as "young, inquisitive, and full of respect" for Smith, and says their conversation, after they finished their business, always took a literary turn, and Smith was "extremely communicative, and delivered himself with a freedom and even boldness quite opposite to the apparent reserve of his appearance."

The first author Amicus mentions is Dr. Johnson, of whom he thought Smith had a "very contemptuous opinion." "I have seen that creature," said Smith, "bolt up in the midst of a mixed company, and without any previous notice fall upon his knees behind a chair, repeat the Lord's Prayer, and then resume his seat at table. He has played this trick over and over, perhaps five or six times in the course of an evening. It is not hypocrisy but madness. Though an honest sort of man himself, he is always patronising scoundrels. Savage, for example, whom he so loudly praises, was but a worthless fellow; his pension of L50 never lasted him longer than a few days. As a sample of his economy you may take a circumstance that Johnson himself once told me. It was at that period fashionable to wear scarlet cloaks trimmed with gold lace, and the Doctor met him one day just after he had got his pension with one of those cloaks on his back, while at the same time his naked toes were sticking through his shoes." He spoke highly, however, of Johnson's political pamphlets on the American question, in spite of his disapproval of their opinions, and he was especially charmed with the pamphlet about the Falkland Islands, because it presented in such forcible language the madness of modern wars.

"Contemptuous opinion" is too strong an expression for Smith's view of Johnson, but it is certain he never rated him so high as the world did then or does now. He told Samuel Rogers that he was astonished at Johnson's immense reputation, but, on the other hand, he frequently praised some of the Doctor's individual writings very highly, as he did to this young gentleman of Glasgow. He once said to Seward that Johnson's preface to Shakespeare was "the most manly piece of criticism that was ever published in any country."[316]

Amicus then inquired of Smith his opinion of his countryman Dr. Campbell, author of the Political Survey, and Smith replied that he had never met him but once, but that he was one of those authors who wrote on from one end of the week to the other, and had therefore with his own hand produced almost a library of books. A gentleman who met Campbell out at dinner said he would be glad to have a complete set of his works, and next morning a cart-load came to his door, and the driver's bill was L70. He used to get a few copies of each of his works from the printers, and keep them for such chances as that. A visitor one day, casting his eye on these books, asked Campbell, "Have you read all these books?" "Nay," said the other, "I have written them."

Smith often praised Swift, and praised him highly, saying he wanted nothing but inclination to have become one of the greatest of all poets. "But in place of that he is only a gossiper, writing merely for the entertainment of a private circle." He regarded Swift, however, as a pattern of correctness both in style and sentiment, and he read to his young friend some of the short poetical addresses to Stella. Amicus says Smith expressed particular pleasure with one couplet—

Say, Stella, feel you no content, Reflecting on a life well spent?

But it was more probably not so much of these two lines as of the whole passage of which they are the opening that Smith was thinking. He thought Swift a great master of the poetic art, because he produced an impression of ease and simplicity, though the work of composition was to him a work of much difficulty, a verse coming from him, as Swift himself said, like a guinea. The Dean's masterpiece was, in Smith's opinion, the lines on his own death, and his poetry was on the whole more correct after he settled in Ireland, and was surrounded, as he himself said, "only by humble friends."

Among historians Smith rated Livy first either in the ancient or the modern world. He knew of no other who had even a pretence to rival him, unless David Hume perhaps could claim that honour.

When asked about Shakespeare Smith quoted with apparent approval Voltaire's remarks that Hamlet was the dream of a drunken savage, and that Shakespeare had good scenes but not a good play; but Amicus gathered that he would not permit anybody else to pass such a verdict with impunity, for when he himself once ventured to say something derogatory of Hamlet, Smith replied, "Yes, but still Hamlet is full of fine passages." This opinion of Shakespeare was of course common to most of the great men of last century. They were not so much insensible to the poet's genius as perplexed by it. His plays were full of imagination, dramatic power, natural gifts of every kind—that was admitted; but then they seemed wild, unregulated, savage—even "drunken savage," to use Voltaire's expression; they were magnificent, but they were not poetry, for they broke every rule of the art, and poetry after all was an art. And so we find Addison at the beginning of last century writing on the greatest English poets and leaving the name of Shakespeare out; and we find Charles James Fox, a true lover of letters, telling Reynolds at the close of the century that Shakespeare's reputation would have stood higher if he had never written Hamlet. Smith thought Shakespeare had more than ten times the dramatic genius of Dryden, but Dryden had more of the poetic art.

He praised Dryden for rhyming his plays, and said—as Pope and Voltaire used also to say—that it was nothing but laziness that prevented our tragic poets from writing in rhyme like those of France. "Dryden," said he, "had he possessed but a tenth part of Shakespeare's dramatic genius, would have brought rhyming tragedies into fashion here as they were in France, and then the mob would have admired them just as much as they then pretended to despise them." Beattie's Minstrel he would not allow to be called a poem at all, because it had no plan, no beginning, middle, or end. It was only a series of verses, some of them, however, he admitted, very happy. As for Pope's translation of the Iliad, he said, "They do well to call it Pope's Iliad, for it is not Homer's Iliad. It has no resemblance to the majesty and simplicity of the Greek."

He read over to Amicus Milton's L'Allegro and Il Penseroso, and explained the respective beauties of each; but he added that all the rest of Milton's short poems were trash. He could not imagine what made Johnson praise the poem on the death of Mrs. Killigrew, and compare it with Alexander's Feast. Johnson's praise of it had induced him to read the poem over and with attention twice, but he could not discover even a spark of merit in it. On the other hand, Smith considered Gray's Odes, which Johnson had damned, to be the standard of lyric excellence.

The Gentle Shepherd he did not admire much. He preferred the Pastor Fido, of which, says Amicus, he "spoke with rapture," and the Eclogues of Virgil. Amicus put in a word in favour of the poet of his own country, but Smith would not yield a point. "It is the duty of a poet," he said, "to write like a gentleman. I dislike that homely style which some think fit to call the language of nature and simplicity and so forth. In Percy's Reliques too a few tolerable pieces are buried under a heap of rubbish. You have read perhaps Adam Bell, Clym of the Cleugh, and William of Cloudesley." "Yes," said Amicus. "Well then," continued Smith, "do you think that was worth printing?"

Of Goldsmith Smith spoke somewhat severely—of Goldsmith as a man apparently, not as a writer—relating some anecdotes of his easy morals, which Amicus does not repeat. But when Amicus mentioned some story about Burke seducing a young lady, Smith at once declared it an invention. "I imagine," said he, "that you have got that fine story out of some of the Magazines. If anything can be lower than the Reviews, they are so. They once had the impudence to publish a story of a gentleman having debauched his own sister, and on inquiry it came out that the gentleman never had a sister. As to Mr. Burke, he is a worthy, honest man, who married an accomplished girl without a shilling of fortune." Of the Reviews Smith never spoke but with ridicule and detestation. Amicus tried to get the Gentleman's Magazine exempted from the general condemnation, but Smith would not hear of that, and said that for his part he never looked at a Review, nor even at the names of the publishers.

Pope was a great favourite with him as a poet, and he knew by heart many passages from his poems, though he disliked Pope's personal character as a man, saying he was all affectation, and speaking of his letter to Arbuthnot when the latter was dying as a consummate piece of canting. Dryden was another of his favourite poets, and when he was speaking one day in high praise of Dryden's fables, Amicus mentioned Hume's objections, and was told, "You will learn more as to poetry by reading one good poem than by a thousand volumes of criticism." Smith regarded the French theatre as the standard of dramatic excellence.

Amicus concludes his reminiscences by quoting one of Smith's observations on a political subject. He said that at the beginning of the reign of George the Third the dissenting ministers used to receive L2000 a year from Government, but that the Earl of Bute had most improperly deprived them of this allowance, and that he supposed this to be the real motive of their virulent opposition to Government.

These recollections of Amicus provoked a letter in a succeeding number of the Bee from Ascanius (the Earl of Buchan) complaining of their publication, not as in any way misrepresenting any of Smith's views, but as obtruding the trifles of the ordinary social hour upon the learned world in a way Smith himself would have extremely disliked. Smith, he says, would rather have had his body injected by Hunter and Monro, and exhibited in Fleet Street or in Weir's Museum. That may very possibly be so; but though Smith, if he were to give his views on literary topics to the public, might prefer putting them in more elaborate dress, yet the opinions he expressed were, it must be remembered, mature opinions on subjects on which he had long thought and even lectured, and if neither Dr. Anderson nor the Earl of Buchan has any fault to find with the correctness of Amicus's report of them, Smith cannot be considered to be any way wronged. The Earl complains too of the matter of the letter being "such frivolous matter"; but it is not so frivolous, and, if it were, is it not Smith himself who used to say to his class at Glasgow, as we are informed by Boswell, that there was nothing too frivolous to be learnt about a great man, and that, for his own part, he was always glad to know that Milton wore latchets to his shoes and not buckles?

In 1781 Gibbon seems to have been in doubt as to continuing his History, and desired Robertson, who happened to be up in London at the time, to talk the matter over with Smith after his return to Edinburgh. The result of this consultation is communicated in a letter from Robertson to Gibbon on 6th November 1781. "Soon after my return," says Robertson, "I had a long conversation with our friend Mr. Smith, in which I stated to him every particular you mentioned to me with respect to the propriety of going on with your work. I was happy to find that his opinion coincided perfectly with that which I had ventured to give you. His decisions, you know, are both prompt and vigorous, and he could not allow that you ought to hesitate a moment in your choice. He promised to write his sentiments to you very fully, but as he may have neglected to do this, for it is not willingly he puts pen to paper, I thought it might be agreeable to you to know his opinion, though I imagine you could hardly entertain any doubt concerning it."[317]

Professor B. Faujas Saint Fond, Professor of Geology in the Museum of Natural History at Paris and member of the National Institute of France, paid a visit to Edinburgh in October or November 1782 in the course of a tour he made through Scotland, and received many civilities from Adam Smith, as he mentions in the account of his travels which he published in 1783. Saint Fond says there was nobody in Edinburgh he visited more frequently than Smith, and nobody received him more kindly or studied more to procure for him every information and amusement Edinburgh could afford. He was struck with Smith's numerous and, as he says, excellently chosen library. "The best French authors occupied a distinguished place in his library, for he was fond of our language." "Though advanced in years, he still possessed a fine figure; the animation of his countenance was striking when he spoke of Voltaire." I have already quoted the remark he made (p. 190).

One evening when the geologist was at tea with him, Smith spoke about Rousseau also, and spoke of him "with a kind of religious respect." "Voltaire," he said, "set himself to correct the vices and follies of mankind by laughing at them, and sometimes by treating them with severity, but Rousseau conducts the reader to reason and truth by the attractions of sentiment and the force of conviction. His 'Social Compact' will one day avenge all the persecutions he suffered."

Smith asked the Professor if he loved music, and on being told that it was one of his chief delights whenever it was well executed, rejoined, "I am very glad of it; I shall put you to a proof which will be very interesting for me, for I shall take you to hear a kind of music of which it is impossible you can have formed any idea, and it will afford me great pleasure to know the impression it makes upon you." The annual bagpipe competition was to take place next day, and accordingly in the morning Smith came to the Professor's lodgings at nine o'clock, and they proceeded at ten to a spacious concert-room, plainly but neatly decorated, which they found already filled with a numerous assembly of ladies and gentlemen. A large space was reserved in the middle of the room and occupied by gentlemen only, who, Smith said, were the judges of the performances that were to take place, and who were all inhabitants of the Highlands or Islands. The prize was for the best execution of some favourite piece of Highland music, and the same air was to be played successively by all the competitors. In about half an hour a folding door opened at the bottom of the hall, and the Professor was surprised to see a Highlander advance playing on a bagpipe, and dressed in the ancient kilt and plaid of his country. "He walked up and down the vacant space in the middle of the hall with rapid steps and a martial air playing his noisy instrument, the discordant sounds of which were sufficient to rend the ear. The tune was a kind of sonata divided into three periods. Smith requested me to pay my whole attention to the music, and to explain to him afterwards the impression it made upon me. But I confess that at first I could not distinguish either air or design in the music. I was only struck with a piper marching backward and forward with great rapidity, and still presenting the same warlike countenance, he made incredible efforts with his body and his fingers to bring into play the different reeds of his instrument, which emitted sounds that were to me almost insupportable. He received, however, great praise." Then came a second piper, who seemed to excel the first, judging from the clapping of hands and cries of bravo that greeted him from every side; and then a third and a fourth, till eight were heard successively; and the Professor began at length to realise that the first part of the music was meant to represent the clash and din and fury of war, and the last part the wailing for the slain,—and this last part, he observed, always drew tears from the eyes of a number of "the beautiful Scotch ladies" in the audience. After the music came a "lively and animated dance," in which some of the pipers engaged, and the rest all played together "suitable airs possessing expression and character, though the union of so many bagpipes produced a most hideous noise." He does not say whether his verdict was satisfactory to Smith, but the verdict was that it seemed to him like a bear's dancing, and that "the impression the wild instrument made on the greater part of the audience was so different from the impression it made on himself, that he could not help thinking that the lively emotion of the persons around him was not occasioned by the musical effect of the air itself, but by some association of ideas which connected the discordant sounds of the pipe with historical events brought forcibly to their recollection."[318]

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