Life of Adam Smith
by John Rae
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Nor were these annual competitions the only local institutions in which Smith took a more or less active interest. One of the duties of a citizen which he undertook will perhaps occasion surprise—he became a Captain of the City Guard. He was made Honorary Captain of the Trained Bands of Edinburgh—the City Guard—on the 4th of June 1781, "with the usual solemnity," the minutes state, "and after spending the evening with grate joy, the whole corps retired, but in distinct divisions and good order, to quarters."[319]

The business of this body, according to its minutes, seems practically to have been mostly of a convivial character, and we can sympathise with the honest pride of the clerk in recording in what a condition of good order they were able to retire after celebrating that auspicious occasion with the joy it deserved. Smith no doubt attended their periodical festivities, or paid his fine of eight magnums of claret for absence. But their business was not all claret and punch. On the 8th September 1784, for example, the captains, lieutenants, and ensigns of the Trained Bands were called out, in consequence of an order from the Lord Provost, "to attend the wheeping of Paull and Anderson, actors in the late riots at Cannonmills." A rescue riot was apprehended, and the Trained Bands met in the old Justiciary Court-room, and were armed there with "stowt oaken sticks." Marching forth in regular order, they acted as guard to the magistrates during the day, and "by their formidable and respectable appearance had the good effect of detering the multitude so that they became only peaceable spectators." Whether an honorary captain could be called upon for active service in an emergency I cannot say, but Smith's name is not mentioned in the list of absentee captains upon this occasion.

In 1783 Smith joined Robertson and others in founding the Royal Society of Edinburgh. Robertson had long entertained the idea of establishing a society on the model of the foreign academies for the cultivation of every branch of science, learning, and taste, and he was at length moved into action by the steps taken in 1782 by the Earl of Buchan and others to obtain a royal charter for the Society of Antiquaries of Scotland, founded two years before. Robertson was very anxious to have only one learned society in Edinburgh, of which antiquities might be made a branch subject, and he even induced the University authorities to petition Parliament against granting a charter of incorporation to the Antiquarian Society. In this strong step the University was seconded by the Faculty of Advocates and the old Philosophical Society, founded by Colin Maclaurin in 1739, but their efforts failed. Out of the agitation, however, the Royal Society came into being. Whether Smith actively supported Robertson, or supported him at all, in his exertions against the Antiquarian Society, I do not know. He was not, as Robertson was, a member of the Society of Antiquaries. But he was one of the original members of the Royal Society. The society was divided into two branches,—a physical branch or class devoted to science; and a literary branch or class devoted to history and polite letters,—and Smith was one of the four presidents of the literary class. The Duke of Buccleugh was President of the whole society; and Smith's colleagues in the presidency of the literary class were Robertson, Blair, and Baron Gordon (Cosmo Gordon of Cluny, a Baron of Exchequer and most accomplished man).

Smith never read a paper to this society, nor does he ever seem to have spoken in it except once or twice on a matter of business which had been entrusted to him. The only mention of his name in the printed Transactions is in connection with two prizes of 1000 ducats and 500 ducats respectively, which were offered to all the world in 1785 by Count J.N. de Windischgraetz for the two most successful inventions of such legal terminology for every sort of deed as, without imposing any new restraints on natural liberty, would yet leave no possible room for doubt or litigation, and would thereby diminish the number of lawsuits. The Count wished the prizes to be decided by three of the most distinguished literary academies in Europe, and had chosen for that purpose the Royal Academy of Science in Paris, which had already consented to undertake the duty; the Royal Society of Edinburgh, whose consent the Count now sought; and one of the academies of Germany or Switzerland which he was afterwards to name. He addressed his communication to the society through Adam Smith, who must therefore be assumed to have had some private acquaintance or connection with him; and on the 9th of July Smith laid the proposal before the Council of the society, and, as is reported in the Transactions, "signified to the meeting that although he entertained great doubt whether the problem of the Count de Windischgraetz admitted of any complete and rational solution, yet the views of the proposer being so highly laudable, and the object itself being of that nature that even an approximation to its attainment would be of importance to mankind, he was therefore of opinion that the society ought to agree to the request that was made to them. He added that it was his intention to communicate his sentiments on the subject to the Count by a letter which he would lay before the Council at a subsequent meeting."[320] This letter was read to the Council on the 13th of December, and after being approved, a copy of it was requested for preservation among their papers, as the author "did not incline that it should be published in the Transactions of the society."

Nothing further is heard of this business till the 6th of August 1787, when "Mr. Commissioner Smith acquainted the society that the Count de Windischgraetz had transmitted to him three dissertations offered as solutions of his problem, and had desired the judgment of the society upon their merits. The society referred the consideration of these papers to Mr. Smith, Mr. Henry Mackenzie of the Exchequer, and Mr. William Craig, advocate, as a committee to appraise and consider them, and to report their opinion to the society at a subsequent meeting." At length, on the 21st January 1788, Mr. Commissioner Smith reported that this committee thought none of the three dissertations amounted either to a solution or an approximation to a solution of the Count's problem, but that one of them was a work of great merit, and the society asked Mr. A. Fraser Tytler, one of their secretaries, to send on this opinion to the Count as their verdict.[321]


[316] Seward's Anecdotes, ii. 464.

[317] Gibbon's Miscellaneous Works, ii. 255.

[318] Saint Fond, Travels in England, Scotland, and the Hebrides, ii. 241.

[319] Skinner's Society of Trained Bands of Edinburgh, p. 99.

[320] Transactions, R.S.E., i. 39.

[321] Ibid., R.S.E., ii. 24.



Notwithstanding the patronage he received from Lord North and his relations of friendship and obligation with the Duke of Buccleugh and Henry Dundas, Smith continued to be a warm political supporter of the Rockingham Whigs and a warm opponent of the North ministry. The first Earl of Minto (then Sir Gilbert Elliot) visited Edinburgh in 1782, and wrote in his journal. "I have found one just man in Gomorrah, Adam Smith, author of the Wealth of Nations. He was the Duke of Buccleugh's tutor, is a wise and deep philosopher, and although made Commissioner of the Customs here by the Duke and Lord Advocate, is what I call an honest fellow. He wrote a most kind as well as elegant letter to Burke on his resignation, as I believe I told you before, and on my mentioning it to him he told me he was the only man here who spoke out for the Rockinghams."[322] This letter is now lost, but Burke's answer to it remains, and was sold at Sotheby's a few years ago. Smith must have expressed the warmest approval of the step Fox and Burke had taken, on the death of the Marquis of Rockingham in July 1782, in resigning their offices in the Ministry rather than serve under their colleague Lord Shelburne, and he must have felt strongly on the subject to overcome his aversion to letter-writing on the occasion. Fox and Burke have been much censured for their refusal to serve under Shelburne, inasmuch as that refusal meant a practical disruption of the Whig party; and Burke could not help feeling strengthened, as he says he was in his letter, by the approval of a man like Smith, who was not only a profound political philosopher, but a thorough and loyal Whig. Notwithstanding his personal friendship with Lord Shelburne, Smith never seems to have trusted him as a political leader. We have already seen him condemning Shelburne at the time of that statesman's first collision with Fox—the "pious fraud" occasion—and now nineteen years later he shows the same distrust of Shelburne, and doubtless for the same reason, that he believed Shelburne was willing to be subservient to the king's designs, and to increase the power of the Crown, which it had ever been the aim of the Whigs to limit. Shelburne's acceptance of office, after the king's positive refusal to listen to the views of the Rockinghams themselves regarding the leadership of their own party, was probably regarded by Smith as a piece of open treason to the popular cause, and open espousal of the cause of the Court.

In those critical times the thoughts of even private citizens brooded on the arts of war. An Edinburgh lawyer who had never been at sea invented the system of naval tactics which gave Rodney his victories, and here is a Highland laird, who had spent his days among his herds in Skye, writing Smith about a treatise he has composed on fortification, which he believes to contain original discoveries of great importance, and which he sends up to Smith and Henry Mackenzie, with a five-pound note to pay the expenses of its publication. The author was Charles Mackinnon of Mackinnon, the chief of his clan, who fell into adverse circumstances shortly after the date of this correspondence, and parted with all the old clan property, and the treatise on fortification itself still exists among the manuscripts of the British Museum. It is certainly a poor affair, from which the author could have reaped nothing but disappointment, and Smith, who seems to have held Mr. Mackinnon in high esteem personally, strongly dissuades him from giving it to the press. This opinion is communicated in the following candid but kind letter:—

DEAR SIR—I received your favour of the 13th of this month, and am under some concern to be obliged to tell you that I have not only not got out of the press, but that I have not yet gone into it, and would most earnestly once more recommend it to your consideration whether upon this occasion we should go into it at all. It was but within these few days that I could obtain a meeting with Mr. Mackinzie, who was occupied with the Exchequer Business. I find he had seen your papers before, and was of the same opinion with me that in their present condition they would not do you the honour we wish you to derive from whatever work you publish. We read them over together with great care and attention, and we both continued of our first opinion. I hope you will pardon me if I take the liberty to tell you that I cannot discover in them those original ideas which you seem to suppose that they contain. I am not very certain whether I understand what you hint obscurely in your former letter, but it seems to me as if you had some fear that some person might anticipate you, and claim the merit of your discoveries by publishing them as his own. From the character of the gentleman to whom your property has been communicated, I should hope there is no danger of this. But to prevent the Possibility of the Public being imposed upon in this manner, your Papers now lie sealed up in my writing Desk, superscribed with directions to my executors to return them unopened to you or your heirs as their proper owners. In case of my death and that of Mr. M'Kinzie, the production of these papers under my seal and superscribed by my hand will be sufficient to refute any plagiarism of this kind. While we live our evidence will secure to you the reputation of whatever discoveries may be contained in them. I return you the five Pound note, in hopes that you will not insist upon this publication, at least for some time; at any rate, I shall always be happy to advance a larger sum upon your account, though I own I could wish it was for some other purpose. I have not shown your Papers to Smellie. It will give me great pleasure to hear from you, and to be informed that you forgive the freedom I have used in offering you, I am afraid, a disagreeable advice. I can assure you that nothing but the respect which I think I owe to the character of a person whom I know to be a man of worth, delicacy, and honour, could have extorted it from me.—I ever am, dear sir, most faithfully yours,



21st August 1782.

If you should not chuse that your Papers should remain in my custody, I shall either send them to you or deliver to whom you please.[323]

While one Highland laird was planning to save his country by an improved system of fortification, another was conceiving a grander project of saving her by continental alliances. The moment was among the darkest England has ever passed through. We were engaged in a death-struggle against France, Spain, and the American colonies combined. Cornwallis had just repeated at Yorktown the humiliating surrender of Burgoyne at Saratoga. Elliot lay locked in Gibraltar. Ireland was growing restive and menacing on one side, and the Northern powers of Europe on the other—the Armed Neutrality, as they were called—sat and watched, with their hands on their sword-hilts and a grudge against England in their hearts. Now Sir John Sinclair believed that these neutral powers held the key of the situation, and wrote a pamphlet in 1782, which he proposed to translate into their respective tongues for the purpose of persuading them to join this country in a crusade against the House of Bourbon, and "to emancipate the colonies both in the West Indies and on the continent of America for the general interest of all nations." The price he was prepared to offer these powers for their adhesion was to be a share in the colonial commerce of England, and the acquisition of some of the French and Spanish colonial dependencies for themselves. Sinclair sent his pamphlet to Smith, apparently with a request for his opinion on the advisability of translating it for the conversion of the powers, and he received the following reply. I may add that I have not been able to see this pamphlet, but that it is evidently not the pamphlet entitled "Impartial Considerations on the Propriety of retaining Gibraltar," as Sinclair's biographer supposes; for in the former pamphlet Sinclair is advocating not only a continuance, but an extension of the war, whereas in the latter he has come round to the advocacy of peace, and instead of contemplating the deprivation of France and Spain of their colonies, he recommends the cession of Gibraltar as a useless and expensive possession, using very much the same line of argument which Smith suggests in this letter. Smith's letter very probably had some influence in changing his views, though it is true the idea of ceding Gibraltar was in 1782 much favoured by a party in Lord Shelburne's government, and even by the king himself.

Smith's letter ran thus:—

MY DEAR SIR—I have read your pamphlet several times with great pleasure, and am very much pleased with the style and composition. As to what effect it might produce if translated upon the Powers concerned in the Armed Neutrality, I am a little doubtful. It is too plainly partial to England. It proposes that the force of the Armed Neutrality should be employed in recovering to England the islands she has lost, and the compensation which it is proposed that England should give for this service is the islands which they may conquer for themselves, with the assistance of England indeed, from France and Spain. There seems to me besides to be some inconsistency in the argument. If it be just to emancipate the continent of America from the dominion of every European power, how can it be just to subject the islands to such dominion? and if the monopoly of the trade of the continent be contrary to the rights of mankind, how can that of the islands be agreeable to these rights? The real futility of all distant dominions, of which the defence is necessarily most expensive, and which contribute nothing, either by revenue or military forces, to the general defence of the empire, and very little even to their own particular defence, is, I think, the subject on which the public prejudices of Europe require most to be set right. In order to defend the barren rock of Gibraltar (to the possession of which we owe the union of France and Spain, contrary to the natural interests and inveterate prejudices of both countries, the important enmity of Spain and the futile and expensive friendship of Portugal) we have now left our own coasts defenceless, and sent out a great fleet, to which any considerable disaster may prove fatal to our domestic security; and which, in order to effectuate its purpose, must probably engage a fleet of superior force. Sore eyes have made me delay writing to you so long.—I ever am, my dear sir, your most faithful and affectionate humble servant,



14th October 1782.[324]

The strong opinion expressed in this letter of the uselessness of colonial dependencies, which contributed nothing to the maintenance of the mother country, had of course been already expressed in the Wealth of Nations. "Perish uncontributing colonies" is the very pith of the last sentence of that work. "If any of the provinces of the British Empire cannot be made to contribute towards the support of the whole empire, it is surely time that Great Britain should free herself from the expense of defending those provinces in time of war and of supporting any part of their civil or military establishments in time of peace; and endeavour to accommodate her future views and designs to the real mediocrity of her circumstances."

The principles of free trade presently got an impetus from the conclusion of peace with America and France in 1783. Lord Shelburne wrote Abbe Morellet in 1783 that the treaties of that year were inspired from beginning to end by "the great principle of free trade," and that "a peace was good in the exact proportion that it recognised that principle." A fitting opportunity was thought to have arisen for making somewhat extended applications of the principle, and many questions were asked about how far such applications should go in this direction or that. When the American Intercourse Bill was before the House in 1783, one of Lord Shelburne's colleagues in the Ministry, William Eden, approached Smith in considerable perplexity as to the wisdom of conceding to the new republic free commercial intercourse with this country and our colonies. Eden had already done something for free trade in Ireland, and he was presently to earn a name as a great champion of that principle, after successfully negotiating with Dupont de Nemours the Commercial Treaty with France in 1786; but in 1787 he had not accepted the principle so completely as his chief, Lord Shelburne. Perhaps, indeed, he never took a firm hold of the principle at any time, for Smith always said of him, "He is but a man of detail."[325] Anyhow, when he wrote Smith in 1783 he was under serious alarm at the proposal to give the United States the same freedom to trade with Canada and Nova Scotia as we enjoyed ourselves. Being so near those colonies, the States would be sure to oust Great Britain and Ireland entirely out of the trade of provisioning them. The Irish fisheries would be ruined, the English carrying trade would be lost. The Americans, with fur at their doors, could easily beat us in hats, and if we allowed them to import our tools free, they would beat us in everything else for which they had the raw materials in plenty. Eden and Smith seem to have exchanged several letters on this subject, but none of them remain except the following one from Smith, in which he declares that it would be an injustice to our own colonies to restrict their trade with the United States merely to benefit Irish fish-curers or English hatters, and to be bad policy to impose special discouragements on the trade of one foreign nation which are not imposed on the trade of others. His argument is not, it will be observed, for free trade, which he perhaps thought then impracticable, but merely for equality of treatment,—equality of treatment between the British subject in Canada and the British subject in England, and equality of treatment between the American nation and the Russian, or French, or Spanish.

DEAR SIR—If the Americans really mean to subject the goods of all different nations to the same duties and to grant them the same indulgence, they set an example of good sense which all other nations ought to imitate. At any rate it is certainly just that their goods, their naval stores for example, should be subjected to the same duties to which we subject those of Russia, Sweden, and Denmark, and that we should treat them as they mean to treat us and all other nations.

What degree of commercial connection we should allow between the remaining colonies, whether in North America or the West Indies, and the United States may to some people appear a more difficult question. My own opinion is that it should be allowed to go on as before, and whatever inconveniences result from this freedom may be remedied as they occur. The lumber and provisions of the United States are more necessary to our West India Islands than the rum and sugar of the latter are to the former. Any interruption or restraint of commerce would hurt our loyal much more than our revolted subjects. Canada and Nova Scotia cannot justly be refused at least the same freedom of commerce which we grant to the United States.

I suspect the Americans do not mean what they say. I have seen a Revenue Act of South Carolina by which two shillings are laid upon every hundredweight of brown sugar imported from the British plantations, and only eighteenpence upon that imported from any foreign colony. Upon every pound of refined sugar from the former one penny, from the latter one halfpenny. Upon every gallon of French wine twopence; of Spanish wine threepence; of Portuguese wine fourpence.

I have little anxiety about what becomes of the American commerce. By an equality of treatment of all nations we must soon open a commerce with the neighbouring nations of Europe infinitely more advantageous than that of so distant a country as America. This is an immense subject upon which when I wrote to you last I intended to have sent you a letter of many sheets, but as I expect to see you in a few weeks I shall not trouble you with so tedious a dissertation. I shall only say at present that every extraordinary, either encouragement or discouragement that is given to the trade of any country more than to that of another may, I think, be demonstrated to be in every case a complete piece of dupery, by which the interest of the state and the nation is constantly sacrificed to that of some particular class of traders. I heartily congratulate you upon the triumphant manner in which the East India Bill has been carried through the Lower House. I have no doubt of its passing through the Upper House in the same manner. The decisive judgment and resolution with which Mr. Fox has introduced and supported that Bill does him the highest honour.—I ever am, with the greatest respect and esteem, dear sir, your most affectionate and most humble servant,


EDINBURGH, 15th December 1783.[326]

Fox's East India Bill, of which Smith expresses such unqualified commendation, proposed to transfer the government of British India from the Court of Directors of the East India Company to a new board of Crown nominees. This measure was entirely to Smith's mind. He had already in the former editions of his book condemned the company which, as he says, "oppresses and domineers in India," and in the additional matter which he wrote about the company immediately before this bill was introduced he declared of them that "no other sovereigns ever were, or, from the nature of things, ever could be, so perfectly indifferent about the happiness or misery of their subjects, the improvement or waste of their dominions, the glory or disgrace of their administration, as, from irresistible moral causes, the greater part of the proprietors of such a mercantile company are and necessarily must be."


[322] Lady Minto's Life of the Earl of Minto, i. 84.

[323] Add. MSS., 5035.

[324] Correspondence of Sir John Sinclair, i. 389.

[325] Mackintosh, Miscellaneous Works, iii. 17.

[326] Journals and Correspondence of Lord Auckland, i. 64.




Burke had been elected Lord Rector of the University of Glasgow in November 1783 in succession to Dundas, and he came down to Scotland to be installed in the following April. He spent altogether eight or ten days in the country, and he spent them all in the company of Smith, who attended him wherever he went. Burke and Smith, always profound admirers of one another's writings, had grown warm friends during the recent lengthened residence of the latter in London. Even in the brilliant circle round the brown table in Gerrard Street there was none Burke loved or esteemed more highly than Smith. One of the statesman's biographers informs us, on the authority of an eminent literary friend, who paid him a visit at Beaconsfield after his retirement from public life, that he then spoke with the warmest admiration of Smith's vast learning, his profound understanding, and the great importance of his writings, and added that his heart was as good and rare as his head, and that his manners were "peculiarly pleasing."[327] Smith on his part was drawn to Burke by no less powerful an attraction. He once paid him a compliment with which the latter appears to have been particularly gratified, for he repeated it to his literary friend on this same occasion. "Burke," said the economist, "is the only man I ever knew who thinks on economic subjects exactly as I do, without any previous communications having passed between us."[328]

The installation of Lord Rector was to take place on Saturday the 10th of April, and Burke arrived in Edinburgh on Tuesday or Wednesday previous. Whether he was Smith's guest while there I am unable to say, but at any rate it was Smith who did the honours of the town to him, and accompanied him wherever he went. Dalzel, the Greek professor, gives an account of the statesman's visit, to his old friend and class-fellow, Sir Robert Liston, and states that "Lord Maitland attended him constantly and Mr. Adam Smith. They brought him," he adds, "to my house the day after he arrived." Lord Maitland was the eldest son of the Earl of Lauderdale, and became a well-known figure both in politics and in scientific economics after he succeeded to the peerage himself. I have already mentioned him for his admiration of Smith, and his defence of him from the disparaging remarks of Fox, though he was himself no blind follower of the Wealth of Nations, but one of the earliest and not the least acute of the critics of that work. He was at this time one of the rising hopes of the Whigs in the House of Commons, which he had entered as representative of a Cornish borough in 1780. Dalzel had been his tutor, and had accompanied him in that capacity to Oxford; and being also a great favourite with Smith, whom he respected above all things for his knowledge of Greek, he was naturally among the first of the eminent citizens to whom they introduced their distinguished guest.

On Thursday morning Burke and Smith went out with Lord Maitland to Hatton, the Lauderdale seat in Midlothian, to dine and stay the night there on their way to Glasgow, and Dugald Stewart and Dalzel joined them later in the day after they had finished their college classes. The conversation happened very naturally to touch on party prospects, for they were at the moment in the thick of a general election—the famous election of 1784, so fatal to the Whigs, when near 160 supporters of the Coalition Ministry—"Fox's martyrs"—lost their seats, and Pitt was sent back with an enormous majority behind him. Parliament had been dissolved a fortnight before, and many of the elections were already past; Burke himself had been returned for Malton on his way north, but the battle was still raging; in Westminster, where the Whig chief was himself fighting, it lasted a month longer, and in many other constituencies the event was as yet undecided. As far as returns had been made, however, things had gone hard with the Whigs, and Burke was despondent. He had been some twenty years in public life without his party being in power as many months, and since the party seemed now doomed, as indeed it was, to twenty years of opposition again, he turned to Lord Maitland and said, "Lord Maitland, if you want to be in office, if you have any ambition or wish to be successful in life, shake us off, give us up." But Smith intervened, and with singular hopefulness ventured to prophesy that in two years things would certainly come round again. "Why," replied Burke, "I have already been in a minority nineteen years, and your two years, Mr. Smith, will just make me twenty-one, and it will surely be high time for me to be then in my majority."[329]

Smith's hearty remark implies his continued loyalty to the Rockinghams, and shows that just as he two years before approved of their separation from Lord Shelburne, which many Whig critics have censured, so he now equally approved of their coalition with their old adversary, Lord North, which Whig critics have censured more severely still. But his sanguine forecast was far astray. Burke never again returned to office, and the whole conversation reads strangely in the light of subsequent events. Only a few years more and Burke had himself shaken off his friends—from no view to power, it is true—and the young nobleman to whom he gave the advice in jest was to take the lead in avenging the desertion, and to denounce the pension it was proposed to give him as the wages of apostasy. The French Revolution, which drove Burke back to a more conservative position, carried Lord Maitland, who had drunk in Radicalism from Professor John Millar, forward into the republican camp. He went over to Paris with Dugald Stewart and harangued the mob on the streets pour la liberte,[330] and he said one day to the Duchess of Gordon, "I hope, madame, ere long to have the pleasure of introducing Mrs. Maitland to Mrs. Gordon."[331]

On the present occasion at Hatton, however, they were all one in their lamentations over the temporary eclipse the cause of liberty had suffered. On the following morning they all set out together for Glasgow, Stewart and Dalzel being able to accompany them because it was Good Friday, and Good Friday was then a holiday at Edinburgh University. They supped that evening with Professor John Millar, Smith's pupil and Lord Maitland's master, and next day they assisted at the ceremony of installation. The chief business was of course the Rector's address, described in the Annual Register of the year as "a very polite and elegant speech suited to the occasion." Tradition says Burke broke down in this speech, and after speaking five minutes concluded abruptly by saying he was unable to proceed, as he had never addressed so learned an audience before; but though the tradition is mentioned by Jeffrey, who was a student at Glasgow only three years afterwards, and is more definitely stated by Professor Young of the same University in his Lectures on Intellectual Philosophy (p. 334), there appears to be no solid foundation for it whatever. It is not mentioned by Dalzel, who would be unlikely to omit so interesting a circumstance in the gossiping account of the affair which he gives in his letter to Sir R. Liston.

After the installation they adjourned to the College chapel for divine service, where they heard a sermon from Professor Arthur, and then they dined in the College Hall. On Sunday Stewart and Dalzel returned to Edinburgh for their classes next day, but Smith and Lord Maitland accompanied Burke on an excursion to Loch Lomond, of which we know Smith was a great admirer. He said to Samuel Rogers it was the finest lake in Great Britain, and the feature that pleased him particularly was the contrast between the islands and the shore.[332] They did not return to Edinburgh till Wednesday, and they returned then by way of Carron, probably to see the ironworks. On Thursday evening they dined at Smith's, Dalzel being again of the party. Burke seems to have been at his best—"the most agreeable and entertaining man in conversation I ever knew," says Dalzel. "We got a vast deal of political anecdotes from him, and fine pictures of political characters both dead and living. Whether they were impartially drawn or not, that is questionable, but they were admirably drawn."[333]

The elections were still proceeding, and the 29th of April was fixed for the election in Lanarkshire, which had been represented for the previous ten years by a strong personal friend of Smith, Andrew Stuart of Torrance. I have already mentioned Stuart's name in connection with his candidature for the Indian Commissionership, for which Sir William Pulteney thought of proposing Smith. Though now forgotten, he was a notable person in his day. He came first strongly into public notice during the proceedings in the Douglas cause. Having, as law-agent for the Duke of Hamilton, borne the chief part in preparing the Hamilton side of the case, he was attacked in the House of Lords—and attacked with quite unusual virulence—both by Thurlow, the counsel for the other side, and by Lord Mansfield, one of the judges; and he met those attacks by fighting a duel with Thurlow, and writing a series of letters to Lord Mansfield, which obtained much attention and won him a high name for ability. Shortly thereafter—in 1774—he entered Parliament as member for Lanarkshire, and made such rapid mark that he was appointed a Commissioner of Trade and Plantations in 1779, and seemed destined to higher office. But now in 1784, on the very eve of the election, Stuart suddenly retired from the field, in consequence apparently of some personal considerations arising between himself and the Duke of Hamilton. He was extremely anxious to have his reasons for this unexpected step immediately and fully explained to his personal friends in Edinburgh, and on the 22nd of April—the day before he wrote his resignation—he sent his whole correspondence with the Duke of Hamilton about the matter through to John Davidson, W.S., for their perusal, and especially, it would appear, for the perusal of Smith, the only one he names. "There is particularly," he says, "one friend, Mr. Adam Smith, whom I wish to be fully informed of everything." Being the only friend specifically named in the letter, Smith seems to have been consulted by Davidson as to any other "particular friends" to whom the correspondence should be submitted, and he wrote Davidson on the 7th of May 1784 advising him to show it to Campbell of Stonefield, one of the Lords of Session, and a brother-in-law of Lord Bute. He says—

My Lord Stonefield is an old attached and faithful friend of A. Stuart. The papers relative to the County of Lanark may safely be communicated to him. He is perfectly convinced of the propriety of what you and I agreed upon, that the subject ought to be talked of as little as possible, and never but among his most intimate and cordial friends.


Friday, 7th May.[334]

After being brightened by the agreeable visit of Burke, Smith was presently cast into the deepest sadness by what seems to have been the first trouble of his singularly serene and smooth life—the death of his mother. She died on the 23rd of May, in her ninetieth year. The three avenues to Smith, says the Earl of Buchan, were always his mother, his books, and his political opinions—his mother apparently first of all. They had lived together, off and on, for sixty years, and being most tenderly attached to her, he is said, after her death, never to have seemed the same again. According to Ramsay of Ochtertyre, he was so disconsolate that people in general could find no explanation except in his supposed unbelief in the resurrection. He sorrowed, they said, as those who have no hope. People in general would seem to have little belief in the natural affections; but while they extracted from Smith's filial love a proof of his infidelity, Archdeacon John Sinclair seeks to extract from it a demonstration of his religious faith. It appears that when Mrs. Smith was visited on her deathbed by her minister, her famous son always remained in the room and joined in the prayers, though they were made in the name and for the sake of Christ; and the worthy Archdeacon thinks no infidel would have done that.

The depression Smith showed after his mother's death, however, was unfortunately due in part to the fact that his own health was beginning to fail. He was now sixty-one; as Stewart tells us, he aged very rapidly, and in two years more he was in the toils of the malady that carried him off. The shock of his mother's death could not help therefore telling severely upon him in his declining bodily condition.

Burke was—no doubt at Smith's instance—elected Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh in June 1784, in spite of several black balls; for, as Dalzel observes, "it would seem that there are some violent politicians among us"; and in August 1785 he was again in Scotland attending to the duties of his Rectorship. He was accompanied this time by Windham, who was the most attached and the most beloved of his political disciples, and who had been a student at Glasgow himself in 1766. If Dalzel was delighted with Burke, he was enchanted with Windham, for, says he to Liston, "besides his being a polite man and a man of the world, he is perhaps the very best Greek scholar I ever met with. He did me the honour of breakfasting with me one morning, and sat for three hours talking about Greek. When we were at Hatton he and I stole away as often as we could from the rest of the company to read and talk about Greek.... You may judge how I would delight in him." Smith was not at Hatton with them this time, but he saw much of them in Edinburgh.

Smith had probably known Windham already, but at any rate, as soon as Burke and he arrived in Edinburgh on the 24th of August and took their quarters in Dun's Hotel, they paid a visit to Smith, and next day they dined with him at his house. Among the guests mentioned by Windham as being present were Robertson; Henry Erskine, who had recently been Burke's colleague in the Coalition Ministry as Lord Advocate; and Mr. Cullen, probably the doctor, though it may have been his son (afterwards a judge), who lives in fame chiefly for his feats as a mimic. Windham gives us no scrap of their conversation except a few remarks of Robertson about Holyrood; and though he says he recollected no one else of the company except those he has mentioned, there was at least one other guest whose presence there that evening he was shortly afterwards to have somewhat romantic occasion to recall. This was Sir John Sinclair, who had just re-entered Parliament for a constituency at the Land's End, after having been defeated in the Wick burghs by Fox. Burke and Windham proposed making a tour in the Highlands, and Sir John advised them strongly, when they came to the beautiful district between Blair-Athole and Dunkeld, to leave their post-chaise for that stage and walk through the woods and glens on foot. They took the advice, and about ten miles from Dunkeld came upon a young lady, the daughter of a neighbouring proprietor, reading a novel under a tree. They entered into conversation with her, and Windham was so much struck with her smartness and talent that though he was obliged at the time, as he said, most reluctantly to leave her, he, three years afterwards, came to Sinclair in the House of Commons and said to him, "I have never been able to get this beautiful mountain nymph out of my mind, and I wish you to ascertain whether she is married or single." Windham was too late. She was already married to Dr. Dick—afterwards a much-trusted medical adviser of Sir Walter Scott—and had gone with her husband to the East Indies.

They returned to Edinburgh on the 13th of September, and, says Windham, "after dinner walked to Adam Smith's. Felt strongly the impression of a family completely Scotch. House magnificent and place fine.... Found there Colonels Balfour and Ross, the former late aide-de-camp to General Howe, the latter to Lord Cornwallis. Felt strongly the impression of a company completely Scotch."

Colonel Nesbit Balfour, who won great distinction in the American war, was the son of one of Smith's old Fifeshire neighbours, a proprietor in that county, and became afterwards well known in Parliament, where he sat from 1790 to 1812. Colonel (afterwards General) Alexander Ross had also taken a distinguished part in the American war, and was Cornwallis's most intimate friend and correspondent. He was at this time Deputy-Adjutant-General of the Forces in Scotland. Whether he was a relation of the Colonel Patrick Ross of whom Smith speaks in one of his letters as a kinsman of his own,[335] I cannot say.

Next day, the 14th, Burke and Windham dined with Smith. There was no other guest except a Mr. Skene, no doubt one of Smith's cousins from Pitlour, probably the Inspector-General of Scotch Roads already mentioned.[336] On the following morning the two statesmen proceeded on their way southward.

One of the visits Burke paid in Edinburgh was to a charming poet, to whom fortune has been singularly unkind, not only treating him cruelly when alive, but instead of granting the usual posthumous reparation, treating him even more cruelly after his death. I mean John Logan, the author of the Ode to the Cuckoo, which Burke thought the most beautiful lyric in the language. Logan was at the moment in the thick of his troubles. He had written a tragedy called Runnymede, which, though accepted by the management of Covent Garden, was prohibited by the Lord Chamberlain, who scented current politics in the bold speeches of the Barons of King John, but it was eventually produced in the Edinburgh theatre in 1783. Its production immediately involved the author, as one of the ministers of Leith, in difficulties with his parishioners and the ecclesiastical courts similar to those which John Home had encountered twenty years before, and the trouble ended in Logan resigning his charge in December 1786 on a pension of L40 a year. Smith, who was an admirer and, as Dr. Carlyle mentions to Bishop Douglas, a "great patron" of Logan, stood by him through these troubles. When they first broke out in 1783 he wished, as Logan himself tells his old pupil Sir John Sinclair, to get the poet transferred if possible from his parish in Leith to the more liberal and enlightened parish of the Canongate, and when Logan eventually made up his mind to take refuge in literature, Smith gave him the following letter of introduction to Andrew Strahan, who had, since his father's death, become the head of the firm:—

DEAR SIR—Mr. Logan, a clergyman of uncommon learning, taste, and ingenuity, but who cannot easily submit to the puritanical spirit of this country, quits his charge and proposes to settle in London, where he will probably exercise what may be called the trade of a man of letters. He has published a few poems, of which several have great merit, and which are probably not unknown to you. He has likewise published a tragedy, which I cannot say I admire in the least. He has another in manuscript, founded and almost translated from a French drama, which is much better. But the best of all his works which I have seen are some lectures upon universal history, which were read here some years ago, but which, notwithstanding they were approved and even admired by some of the best and most impartial judges, were run down by the prevalence of a hostile literary faction, to the leaders of which he had imprudently given some personal offence. Give me leave to recommend him most earnestly to your countenance and protection. If he was employed on a review he would be an excellent hand for giving an account of all books of taste, of history, and of moral and abstract philosophy.—I ever am, my dear sir, most faithfully and affectionately yours,


EDINBURGH, 29th September 1785.

The lectures which Smith praises so highly were published in 1779, and are interesting as one of the first adventures in what was afterwards known as the philosophy of history. But his memory rests now on his poems, which Smith thought less of, and especially on his Ode to the Cuckoo, which he has been accused so often of stealing from his deceased friend Michael Bruce, but to which his title has at last been put beyond all doubt by Mr. Small's publication of a letter, written to Principal Baird in 1791, by Dr. Robertson of Dalmeny, who acted as joint editor with him of their common friend Bruce's poems.[338]


[327] Bisset's Life of Burke, ii. 429.

[328] Bisset's Life of Burke, ii. 429.

[329] Innes's Memoir of Dalzel in Dalzel's History of University of Edinburgh, i. 42.

[330] Add. MSS., 32,567.

[331] Best's Anecdotes, p. 25.

[332] Clayden's Early Life of Samuel Rogers, p. 92.

[333] Dalzel's History of the University of Edinburgh, i. 42.

[334] Edinburgh University Library.

[335] See above, p. 361.

[336] See above, p. 243.

[337] Morrison MSS.

[338] Small, Michael Bruce and the Ode to the Cuckoo, p. 7.



Dr. Richard Price had recently stirred a sensation by his attempt to prove that the population of England was declining, and had actually declined by nearly 30 per cent since the Revolution, and the first to enter the lists against him was William Eden, who in his Fifth Letter to the Earl of Carlisle, published in 1780, exposes the weakness of Price's statistics, and argues that both the population and the trade of the country had increased. Price replied to these criticisms in the same year, and now in 1785 Eden appears to have been contemplating a return to the subject and the publication of another work upon it, in connection with which he entered upon a correspondence with Smith, for the two following letters bearing on this population question of last century, though neither of them bears any name or address, seem most likely to have been written to that politician.

Price had drawn his alarmist conclusions from rough estimates founded on the revenue returns. From a comparison of the hearth-money returns before the Revolution with the window and house tax returns of his own time he guessed at the number of dwelling-houses in the country, and from the number of dwelling-houses he guessed at the number of inhabitants by simply supposing each house to contain five persons. He further tried to support his conclusion by figures drawn from bills of mortality and by references to colonial emigration, consolidation of farms, the growth of London, and the progress of luxury.

Smith thought very poorly of those ill-founded speculations, and even of their author generally, and he appears to have called Eden's attention to a population return relative to Scotland which furnished a sounder basis for a just estimate of the numbers of the people than the statistics on which Price relied. This was a return of the number of examinable persons in every parish of Scotland which had been obtained in 1755 by Dr. Alexander Webster, at the desire of Lord President Dundas, for the information of the Government. Public catechisings were then, and in many parishes are still, part of the ordinary duties of the minister, who visited each hamlet and district of his parish successively for the purpose every year, and consequently every minister kept a list of the examinable persons in his parish—the persons who were old enough to answer his questions on the Bible or Shorter Catechism. None were too old to be exempt. Webster procured copies of these lists for every parish in Scotland, and when he added to each a certain proportion to represent the number of persons under examinable age, he had a fairly accurate statement of the population of the country. He appears to have procured the lists for 1779 as well as those for 1755, and to have ascertained from a comparison of the two that the population of Scotland had remained virtually stationary during that quarter of a century, the increase in the commercial and manufacturing districts being counterbalanced by a diminution in the purely agricultural districts, due to the consolidation of farms. That, at least, was the impression of the officials of the Ministers' Widows' Fund, through whom the correspondence on the subject with the ministers had been conducted; and they threw doubt on an observation of a contrary import—apparently to the effect that the population of Scotland was increasing—which Smith heard Webster make in one of those hours of merriment for which that popular and useful divine seems destined to be remembered when his public services are forgotten.

Smith's first letter runs thus:—

SIR—I have been so long in answering your very obliging letter of the 8th inst. that I am afraid you will imagine I have been forgetting or neglecting it. I hoped to send one of the accounts by the post after I received your letter, but some difficulties have occurred which I was not aware of, and you may yet be obliged to wait a few days for it. In the meantime I send you a note extracted from Mr. Webster's book by his clerk, who was of great use to him in composing it, and who has made several corrections upon it since.

My letters as a Commissioner of the Customs are paid at the Custom House, and my correspondents receive them duty free. I should otherwise have taken the liberty to enclose them, as you direct, under Mr. Rose's cover. It may perhaps give that gentleman pleasure to be informed that the net revenue arising from the customs in Scotland is at least four times greater than it was seven or eight years ago. It has been increasing rapidly these four or five years past, and the revenue of this year has overleaped by at least one-half the revenue of the greatest former year. I flatter myself it is likely to increase still further. The development of the causes of this augmentation would require a longer discussion than this letter will admit.

Price's speculations cannot fail to sink into the neglect that they have always deserved. I have always considered him as a factious citizen, a most superficial philosopher, and by no means an able calculator.—I have the honour to be, with great respect and esteem, sir, your most faithful humble servant,


CUSTOM HOUSE, EDINBURGH, 22nd December 1785.

I shall certainly think myself very much honoured by any notice you may think proper to take of my book.[339]

The second letter followed in a few days:—

EDINBURGH, 3rd January 1786.

SIR—The accounts of the imports and exports of Scotland which you wanted are sent by this day's post to Mr. Rose.

Since I wrote to you last I have conversed with Sir Henry Moncreiff, Dr. Webster's successor as collector of the fund for the maintenance of clergymen's widows, and with his clerk, who was likewise clerk to Dr. Webster, and who was of great use to the Doctor in the composition of the very book which I mentioned to you in a former letter. They are both of opinion that the conversation I had with Dr. Webster a few months before his death must have been the effect of a momentary and sudden thought, and not of any serious or deliberate consideration or inquiry. It was, indeed, at a very jolly table and in the midst of much mirth and jollity, of which the worthy Doctor, among many other useful and amiable qualities, was a very great lover and promoter. They told me that in the year 1779 a copy of the Doctor's book was made out by his clerk for the use of my Lord North. That at the end of that book the Doctor had subjoined a note to the following purpose, that though between 1755 and 1779 the numbers in the great trading and manufacturing towns and villages were considerably increased, yet the Highlands and Islands were much depopulated, and even the low country, by the enlargement of farms, in some degree; so that the whole numbers, he imagined, must be nearly the same at both periods. Both these gentlemen believe that this was the last deliberate judgment which Dr. Webster ever formed upon this subject. The lists mentioned in the note are the lists of what are called examinable persons—that is, of persons upwards of seven or eight years of age, who are supposed fit to be publicly examined upon religious and moral subjects. Most of our country clergy keep examination rolls of this kind.

My Lord North will, I dare to say, be happy to accommodate you with the use of this book. It is a great curiosity, though the conversation I mentioned to you had a little shaken my faith in it—I am glad now to suppose, without much reason.—I have the honour to be, with the highest regard, sir, your most obedient humble servant,


A new edition of the Wealth of Nations—the fourth—appeared in 1786, without any alteration in the text from the previous one, but the author prefixed to it an advertisement acknowledging the very great obligations he had been under to Mr. Henry Hope, the banker at Amsterdam, for (to quote the words of the advertisement) "the most distinct as well as the most liberal information concerning a very interesting and important subject, the Bank of Amsterdam, of which no printed account has ever appeared to me satisfactory or even intelligible. The name of that gentleman is so well known in Europe, the information which comes from him must do so much honour to whoever has been favoured with it, and my vanity is so much interested in making this acknowledgment, that I can no longer refuse myself the pleasure of prefixing this advertisement to this new edition of my book."

Smith had now, as he says in the following letter, reached his grand climacteric—his sixty-third year, according to the old belief, the last and most dangerous of the periodical crises to which man's bodily life was supposed to be subject—and the winter of 1786-87 laid him so low with a chronic obstruction of the bowels that Robertson wrote Gibbon they were in great danger of losing him. That was the winter Burns was in Edinburgh, and it was doubtless owing to this illness and Smith's consequent inability to go into society, that he and the poet never met. Burns obtained a letter of introduction to Smith from their common friend Mrs. Dunlop, but writes her on the 19th of April that when he called he found Smith had gone to London the day before, having recovered, as we know he did, sufficiently in spring to go up there for the purpose of consulting John Hunter. He was still in Edinburgh in March, however, and wrote Bishop Douglas a letter introducing one of his Fifeshire neighbours, Robert Beatson, the author of the well-known and very useful Political Index. Beatson had been an officer of the Engineers, but had retired on half-pay in 1766 and become an agriculturist in his native county. While there he compiled his unique and valuable work, which he published in 1786 and dedicated to his old friend Adam Smith. A new edition was called for within a year, and the author proposed to add some new matter, on which he desired the advice of Bishop Douglas. Hence this letter:—

DEAR SIR—This letter will be delivered to you by Mr. Robert Beatson of Vicars Grange, in Fifeshire, a very worthy friend of mine, and my neighbour in the country for more than ten years together. He has lately published a very useful book called a Political Index, which has been very successful, and which he now proposes to republish with some additions. He wishes much to have your good advice with regard to these additions, and indeed with regard to every other part of his book. And indeed, without flattering you, I know no man so fit to give him good advice upon this subject. May I therefore beg leave to introduce him to your acquaintance, and to recommend him most earnestly to your best advice and assistance. You will find him a very good-natured, well-informed, inoffensive, and obliging companion.

I was exceedingly vexed and not a little offended when I heard that you had passed through this town some time ago without calling upon me, or letting me know that you was in our neighbourhood. My anger, however, which was very fierce, is now a good deal abated, and if you promise to behave better for the future, it is not impossible that I may forgive the past.

This year I am in my grand climacteric, and the state of my health has been a good deal worse than usual. I am getting better and better, however, every day, and I begin to flatter myself that with good pilotage I shall be able to weather this dangerous promontory of human life, after which I hope to sail in smooth water for the remainder of my days.—I am ever, my dear sir, most faithfully and affectionately yours,


EDINBURGH, 6th March 1787.[341]


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

[340] Original in Edinburgh University Library.

[341] Egerton MSS., British Museum, 2181.



1787. Aet. 64

In April he had improved enough to undertake the journey to London to consult Hunter, but he was wasted to a skeleton. William Playfair—brother of his friend the Professor of Mathematics, and afterwards one of the early editors of the Wealth of Nations—met him soon after his arrival in London, and says he was looking very ill, and was evidently going to decay. While in his usual health he was, though not corpulent, yet rather stout than spare, but he was now reduced to skin and bone. He was able, however, to move about in society and see old friends and make new. Windham in his Diary mentions meeting him at several different places, and he was now introduced for the first time to the young statesman who was only a student in the Temple when he was last in London in 1777, but who was already one of the most powerful ministers England had ever seen, and was at the moment reforming the national finances with the Wealth of Nations in his hand. Pitt always confessed himself one of Smith's most convinced disciples. The first few years of his long ministry saw the daybreak of free trade. He brought in a measure of commercial emancipation for Ireland; he carried a commercial treaty with France; he passed, in accordance with Smith's recommendations, laws simplifying the collection and administration of the revenue. In this very year 1787 he introduced his great Consolidation Bill, which created order out of the previous chaos of customs and excise, and was so extensive a work that it took 2537 separate resolutions to state its provisions, and these resolutions had only just been read on the 7th of March, a few weeks before Smith arrived in London.

No one in London therefore was more interested to meet Smith than the young minister who was carrying the economist's principles out so extensively in practical legislation. They met repeatedly, but they met on one occasion, of which recollection has been preserved, at Dundas's house on Wimbledon Green,—Addington, Wilberforce, and Grenville being also of the company; and it is said that when Smith, who was one of the last guests to arrive, entered the room, the whole company rose from their seats to receive him and remained standing. "Be seated, gentlemen," said Smith. "No," replied Pitt; "we will stand till you are first seated, for we are all your scholars." This story seems to rest on Edinburgh tradition, and was first published, so far as I know, in the 1838 edition of Kay's Portraits, more than half a century after the date of the incident it relates. Most of the biographies contained in that work were written by James Paterson, but a few of the earliest, including this of Smith, were not. They were all written, however, from materials which had been long collected by Kay himself, who only died in 1832, or which were obtained before the time of publication from local residents who had known the men themselves, or had mingled with those who did. The whole were edited by the well-known and learned antiquary, James Maidment, whose acceptance of the story is some security that it came from an authoritative though unnamed source.

Smith was highly taken with Pitt, and one evening when dining with him, he remarked to Addington after dinner, "What an extraordinary man Pitt is; he understands my ideas better than I do myself."[342] Other statesmen have been converts to free trade. Pitt never had any other creed; it was his first faith. He was forming his opinions as a young man when the Wealth of Nations appeared, and he formed them upon that work. Smith saw much of this group of statesmen during his visit to the capital in that year.[343] We find Wilberforce sounding him about some of his philanthropic schemes, Addington writing an ode to him after meeting him at Pitt's, and Pitt himself seeking his counsels concerning some contemplated legislation, and perhaps setting him to some task of investigation for his assistance. Bentham had in the early part of 1787 sent from Russia the manuscript of his Defence of Usury, written in antagonism to Smith's doctrine on the subject, to his friend George Wilson, barrister, and Wilson a month or two later—14th of July—writes of "Dr. Smith," who can, I think, be no other than the economist: "Dr. Smith has been very ill here of an inflammation in the neck of the bladder, which was increased by very bad piles. He has been cut for the piles, and the other complaint is since much mended. The physicians say he may do some time longer. He is much with the Ministry, and the clerks of the public offices have orders to furnish him with all papers, and to employ additional hands, if necessary, to copy for him. I am vexed that Pitt should have done so right a thing as to consult Smith, but if any of his schemes are effectuated I shall be comforted."[344] It may be, of course, that Smith was examining papers in the public offices in connection with his own work on Government, but Wilson's statement rather leaves the impression that the researches were instituted in pursuance of some idea of Pitt's, probably related to the reform of the finances. If the Dr. Smith of Wilson's letter is the economist, he would appear to have stayed in London a considerable time on this occasion, and to have suffered a serious relapse of ill-health during his stay there.

Wilberforce did not think quite so highly of Smith as Pitt did, being disappointed to find him too hard-headed to share his own enthusiasm about a great philanthropic adventure of the day, which, to the very practical mind of the economist, seemed entirely wanting in the ordinary conditions of success. With some of the other philanthropic movements in which Wilberforce was interested—with his anti-slavery agitation, for example, begun in that very year 1787—he would have found no more cordial sympathiser than Smith, who had condemned slavery so strongly in his book. The Sunday school movement, too, started by Thomas Raikes two or three years before, won Smith's strongest commendation; for Raikes writes William Fox on 27th July of this same year, and writes as if the remark had been made in conversation with himself, "Dr. Adam Smith, who has very ably written on the Wealth of Nations, says: 'No plan has promised to effect a change of manners with equal ease and simplicity since the days of the Apostles.'" These schools were instituted for the purpose of giving gratuitous instruction to all comers for four or five hours every Sunday in the ordinary branches of primary education, and they were opposed by some leading ecclesiastics—among others by a liberal divine like Bishop Horsley—on the ground that they might become subservient to purposes of political propagandism. The ecclesiastical mind is too often suspicious of the consequences of mental improvement and independence, but to Smith these were merely the first broad conditions of all popular progress.

No man could be less chargeable with indifference to honest and practicable schemes of philanthropy, but the particular scheme towards which Wilberforce found him "characteristically cool" was one which, in his opinion, held out extravagant expectations that could not possibly be realised. It was a project—first suggested, I believe, by Sir James Steuart, the economist, and taken up warmly after him by Dr. James Anderson, and especially by that earliest and most persistent of crofters' friends, John Knox, bookseller in the Strand—for checking the depopulation and distress of the Scotch Highlands by planting a series of fishing villages all round the Highland coast. Knox's idea was to plant forty fishing villages at spots twenty-five miles apart between the Mull of Cantyre and the Dornoch Firth at a cost of L2000 apiece, or at least as many of them as money could be obtained to start; and the scheme rose high in public favour when the parliamentary committee on Scotch Fisheries gave it a general recommendation in 1785, and suggested the incorporation of a limited liability company by Act of Parliament in order to carry it out.

The Scotch nobility adopted the suggestion with great spirit, and in 1786 the British Society for extending the Fisheries was incorporated for that purpose by Royal Charter with a capital of L150,000, with the Duke of Argyle for Governor, and many leading personages, one of them being Wilberforce, for directors. It was indeed the grand philanthropic scheme of the day. The shares were rapidly subscribed for sufficiently to justify a start, and when Smith was in London in 1787 the society had just begun operations on a paid-up capital of L35,000. One of the directors, Isaac Hawkins Browne, M.P., was actually down in Scotland choosing the sites for the villages; and Wilberforce was already almost hearing the "busy hum" of the little hives of fishermen, coopers, boat-builders, and ropemakers, whom they were settling along the desolate coasts.

He naturally spoke to Smith about this large and generous project for the benefit of his countrymen, but was disappointed to find him very sceptical indeed as to its practical results. "Dr. Smith," writes Wilberforce to Hawkins Browne, "with a certain characteristic coolness, observed to me that he looked for no other consequence from the scheme than the entire loss of every shilling that should be expended on it, granting, however, with uncommon candour, that the public would be no great sufferer, because he believed the individuals meant to put their hands only in their own pockets."[345]

The event, however, has justified the sagacity of Smith's prognostication. The society began by purchasing the ground for three fishing settlements on the west coast,—one at Ullapool, in Ross-shire; a second at Lochbeg, in Inverness-shire; and a third at Tobermory, in Argyle. They prepared their feuing plans, built a few houses at their own cost, tried to attract settlers by offering building feus at low rents and fishing-boats on credit at low rates, but, except to a slight extent at Ullapool, their offers were not taken; not a single boat ever sailed from Tobermory under their auspices, and before many years elapsed the society deserted these three original west coast stations and sold its interest in them at a loss of some L2000. But meanwhile the directors had in 1803 bought land at a small port on the east coast, Wick, where a flourishing fishery with 400 boats had already been established by local enterprise without their aid, and they founded there the settlement of Pulteneytown (named by them after Smith's friend, Sir William Pulteney), which has grown with the industry of the port. The society never again tried to resume its original purpose of creating new fishing centres, and here in Pulteneytown it has obviously only acted the part of the shrewd building speculator, investing in the ground-rents of a rising community and prudently helping in its development. Through this change of purpose it has contrived to save some of its capital, and having recently resolved to be wound up, it sold its whole estate in 1893 for L20,000, and after all claims are met may probably have L15,000 of its original capital of L35,000 left to divide. The net result of the scheme therefore on the development of Highland fisheries has been as near nil as Smith anticipated; and if the shareholders have not, as he predicted, lost every shilling of their money, they have lost half of it, and only saved the other half by abandoning the scheme for which it was subscribed. In the whole course of its one hundred and eight years' existence the society never paid more than eleven annual dividends, because for many years it saved up its income for building an extension to its harbour, and eventually lost all these savings and L100,000 of Government money besides in a great breakwater, which proved an irremediable engineering failure, and lies now in the bottom of the sea.

Smith returned to Edinburgh deeply pleased with the reception he met with from the ministers and the progress he saw his principles making. He came back, says the Earl of Buchan, "a Tory and a Pittite instead of a Whig and a Foxite, as he was when he set out. By and by the impression wore off and his former sentiments returned, but unconnected either with Pitt, Fox, or anybody else."[346] Had the impression remained till his death, it would be no matter for wonder. A Liberal has little satisfaction in contemplating the conflict of parties during the first years of Pitt's long administration, and seeing the young Tory minister introducing one great measure of commercial reform after another, while his own Whig chief, Charles Fox, offers to every one of them a most factious and unscrupulous opposition.

Soon after his return Smith received another, and to him a very touching, recognition of his merit in being chosen in November Lord Rector of his old alma mater, the University of Glasgow. The appointment lay with the whole University, professors and students together, but as the students had the advantage of numbers, the decision was virtually in their hands, and their unanimous choice came to Smith (as Carlyle said a similar choice came to him) at the end of his labours like a voice of "Well done" from the University which had sent him forth to do them, and from the coming generation which was to enter upon the fruits of them. There was at first some word of opposition to his candidature, on the good old electioneering plea that he was the professors' nominee, and that it was essential for the students to resent dictation and assert their independence. One of Smith's keenest opponents among the students was Francis Jeffrey, who was then a Tory. Principal Haldane, who was also a student at Glasgow at the time, used to tell of seeing Jeffrey—a little, black, quick-motioned creature with a rapid utterance and a prematurely-developed moustache, on which his audience teased him mercilessly—haranguing a mob of boys on the green and trying to rouse them to their manifest duty of organising opposition to the professors' nominee. His exertions failed, however, and Smith was chosen without a contest.

On receiving intimation of his appointment Smith wrote to Principal Davidson the following reply:—

REVEREND AND DEAR SIR—I have this moment received the honour of your letter of the 15th instant. I accept with gratitude and pleasure the very great honour which the University of Glasgow have done me in electing me for the ensuing year to be the Rector of that illustrious Body. No preferment could have given me so much real satisfaction. No man can own greater obligations to a Society than I do to the University of Glasgow. They educated me, they sent me to Oxford, soon after my return to Scotland they elected me one of their own members, and afterwards preferred me to another office to which the abilities and virtues of the never-to-be-forgotten Dr. Hutcheson had given a superior degree of illustration. The period of thirteen years which I spent as a member of that Society, I remember as by far the most useful and therefore as by far the happiest and most honourable period of my life; and now, after three-and-twenty years' absence, to be remembered in so very agreeable a manner by my old friends and protectors gives me a heartfelt joy which I cannot easily express to you.

I shall be happy to receive the commands of my colleagues concerning the time when it may be convenient for them to do me the honour of admitting me to the office. Mr. Millar mentions Christmass. We have commonly at the Board of Customs a vacation of five or six days at that time. But I am so regular an attendant that I think myself entitled to take the play for a week at any time. It will be no inconveniency to me therefore to wait upon you at whatever time you please. I beg to be remembered to my colleagues in the most respectful and the most affectionate manner; and that you would believe me to be, with great truth, reverend and dear sir, your and their most obliged, most obedient, and most humble servant,


EDINBURGH, 16th November 1787.

The Rev. Dr. ARCHIBALD DAVIDSON, Principal of the College, Glasgow.[347]

He was installed as Rector on the 12th December 1787 with the usual ceremonies. He gave no inaugural address, nor apparently so much as a formal word of thanks. At least Jeffrey, who might have been present, though he does not seem to speak from personal recollection, says he remained altogether silent. His predecessor, Graham of Gartmore, held the Rector's chair for only one year, but Smith, like Burke and Dundas, was re-elected for a second term, and was Rector therefore from November 1787 till November 1789.

One of the new friends Smith made during his last visit to London was Sir Joseph Banks, President of the Royal Society, who seems to have shown him particular attentions; and shortly after his return he gave a young Scotch scientific man a letter of very warm recommendation to Sir Joseph. The young man of science was John Leslie, afterwards Sir John, the celebrated Professor of Natural Philosophy in Edinburgh University. Leslie, who belonged to the neighbourhood of Smith's own town of Kirkcaldy, had been employed by him for the previous two years as tutor to his cousin and heir, David Douglas, and being thus a daily visitor at Smith's house, had won a high place in his affections and regard. Accordingly when Leslie in 1787 gave up his original idea of entering the Church, and resolved to migrate to London with a view to literary or scientific employment, Smith furnished him with a number of letters of introduction, and, as Leslie informed the writer of his biography in Chambers's Biographical Dictionary, advised him, when the letter was addressed to an author, to be always sure to read that author's book before presenting it, so as to be able to speak of the book should a fit opportunity occur. The letter to Sir Joseph Banks runs as follows:—

SIR—The very great politeness and attention with which you was so good as to honour me when I was last in London has emboldened me to use a freedom which I am afraid I am not entitled to, and to introduce to your acquaintance a young gentleman of very great merit, and who is very ambitious of being known to you. Mr. Leslie, the bearer of this letter, has been known to me for several years past. He has a very particular happy turn for the mathematical sciences. It is no more than two years and a half ago that he undertook the instruction of a young gentleman, my nearest relation, in some of the higher parts of these sciences, and acquitted himself most perfectly both to my satisfaction and to that of the young gentleman. He proposes to pursue the same lines in London, and would be glad to accept of employment in some of the mathematical academies. Besides his knowledge in mathematics he is, I am assured, a tolerable Botanist and Chymist. Your countenance and good opinion, provided you shall find he deserves them, may be of the highest importance to him. Give me leave, upon that condition, to recommend him in the most anxious and earnest manner to your protection. I have the honour to be, with the highest respect and regard, sir, your most obliged and most obedient humble servant,


EDINBURGH, 18th December 178(sic). Sir JOSEPH BANKS.

Why does so large a proportion of Smith's extant letters consist of letters of introduction? Have they a better principle of vitality than others, that they should be more frequently preserved? There certainly seems less reason to preserve them, but then there is also less reason to destroy them.

Smith's health appears to have improved so much during the spring of 1788 that his friends, who, as we know from Robertson's letter to Gibbon, had been seriously alarmed about his condition, were now again free from anxiety. He seemed to them to be "perfectly re-established." But in the autumn he suffered another great personal loss in the death of his cousin, Miss Jean Douglas, who had lived under his roof for so many years. His home was now desolate. His mother and his cousin—the two lifelong companions of his hearth—were both gone; his young heir was only with him during the vacations from Glasgow College, where he was now living with Professor John Millar, and being a man for whom the domestic affections went for so much, there seemed, amid all the honour, love, obedience, troops of friends that enrich the close of an important career, to remain a void in his life that could not be filled.

Gibbon had sent him a present of the three concluding volumes of the Decline and Fall, and Smith writes him in November a brief letter of thanks, in which he sets the English historian where he used to set Voltaire, at the head of all living men of letters.

EDINBURGH, 18th December 1788.

MY DEAR FRIEND—I have ten thousand apologies to make for not having long ago returned you my best thanks for the very agreeable present you made me of the three last volumes of your History. I cannot express to you the pleasure it gives me to find that by the universal consent of every man of taste and learning whom I either know or correspond with, it sets you at the very head of the whole literary tribe at present existing in Europe.—I ever am, my dear friend, most affectionately yours,


In this letter Smith makes no complaint of his condition of health, but he seems to have got worse again in the course of the winter, for we find Gibbon writing Cadell, the bookseller, with some apparent anxiety on the 11th of February 1789: "If you can send me a good account of Adam Smith, there is no man more sincerely interested in his welfare than myself." If, however, he were ill then, he recovered in the summer, and was in excellent spirits in July, when Samuel Rogers saw him often during a week he spent in Edinburgh.


[342] Pellew's Life of Sidmouth, i. 151.

[343] Wilberforce's Correspondence, i. 40.

[344] Bowring's Memoir of Bentham, Bentham's Works, x. 173.

[345] Wilberforce's Correspondence, i. 40.

[346] The Bee, vol. in. p. 165.

[347] Glasgow College Minutes.

[348] Morrison MSS.

[349] Gibbon's Miscellaneous Works, ii. 429.




The author of the Pleasures of Memory, going to Scotland to make the home tour, as it was called, then much in vogue, brought with him letters of introduction to Smith from Dr. Price and Dr. Kippis, the editor of the Biographia Britannica. The poet was then a young man of twenty-three, who had published nothing but his Ode to Superstition, and these old Unitarian friends of his father were as yet his chief acquaintances in the world of letters. Their names, notwithstanding the disparaging allusion Smith makes to Price in a letter previously given, won for Rogers the kindest possible reception, and even a continuous succession of civilities, of which he has left a grateful record in the journal he kept during his tour. This journal has been published in Mr. Clayden's Early Tears of Samuel Rogers, and a few additional particulars omitted in it are found in Dyce's published and Mitford's unpublished recollections of Rogers's table-talk.

Rogers arrived in Edinburgh apparently on the 14th of July—that momentous 14th of July 1789 which set the world aflame, though not a spark of information of it had reached Edinburgh before he left the city on the 21st; and on the morning of the 15th he walked down Panmure Close and paid his first visit to the economist. He found Smith sitting at breakfast quite alone, with a dish of strawberries before him, and he has preserved some scraps of the conversation, none of them in any way remarkable. Starting from the business then on hand, Smith said that fruit was his favourite diet at that season of the year, and that Scotland produced excellent strawberries, for the strawberry was a northern fruit, and was at its best in Orkney or Sweden. Passing to the subject of Rogers's tour, he said that Edinburgh deserved little notice, that the old town had given Scotland a bad name (for its filth, presumably), and that he himself was anxious to remove to the newer quarters of the town, and had set his heart on George Square (the place where Walter Scott was brought up and Henry Dundas died). He explained that Edinburgh was entirely supported by the three Courts of Session, Exchequer, and Justiciary (possibly to account for the filth of the place, in accordance with his theory that there was always more squalor and misery in a residential than in an industrial town). While thus apparently slighting or ignoring the beauties of Edinburgh, which were all there then as they are now, he praised Loch Lomond highly. It was the finest lake in Great Britain, the islands being very beautiful and forming a very striking contrast to the shores. The conversation passed from the scenery of Scotland to the soil, and Smith said Scotland had an excellent soil, but a climate so severe that its harvests were too often overtaken by winter before they were housed. The consequence was that the Scotch on the Borders were still in extreme poverty, just as he had noticed half a century before when he rode across the Borders as a student to Oxford, and was greatly struck with the different condition of things he saw as he approached Carlisle. From agriculture they passed on to discuss the corn trade, and Smith denounced the Government's late refusal of corn to France, saying it ought to excite indignation and contempt, inasmuch as the quantity required was so trifling that it would not support the population of Edinburgh for a single day. The population of Edinburgh suggested their houses, and Smith said that the houses were piled high on one another in Paris as well as in Edinburgh. They then touched on Sir John Sinclair, of whom Smith spoke disparagingly in certain aspects, but said that he never knew a man who was in earnest and did not do something at last. Before leaving to return to his hotel Rogers seems to have asked Smith if he knew Mrs. Piozzi, who was then living there, and had called upon Rogers after learning from the landlord that Smith and Robertson had left cards for him, and Smith said he did not know her, but believed she was spoiled by keeping company with odd people. Smith then invited his visitor to dine with him next day at the usual Friday dinner of the Oyster Club, and Rogers came away delighted with the interview, and with the illustrious philosopher's genuine kindness of heart.

On Friday, as appointed, Rogers dined with the Oyster Club as Smith's guest, but he has made no specific entry of the event in his journal, and no record of the conversation. Black and Playfair seem to have been there, and possibly other men of eminence; but the whole talk was usurped by a commonplace member, and Smith felt—and possibly Rogers too—that the day was lost. For next time they met Smith asked Rogers how he liked the club, and said, "That Bogle, I was sorry he talked so much; he spoiled our evening." That Bogle was the Laird of Daldowie, on the Clyde. His father had been Rector of Glasgow University in Smith's professorial days, and one of his brothers, George Bogle, attained some eminence through the embassy on which he was sent by Warren Hastings to the Llama of Thibet, and his account of which has been published quite recently; and the offender himself was a man of ability and knowledge, who had been a West India merchant for many years, was well versed in economic and commercial subjects, and very fond of writing to the Government of the day long communications on those subjects, which seem to have been generally read, and sometimes even acted upon. In society, as we are told by one of his relations, Mr. Morehead, he was generally considered very "tedious, from the long lectures on mercantile and political subjects (for he did not converse when he entered on these, but rather declaimed) which he was in the habit of delivering in the most humdrum and monotonous manner."[350] His tedious lectures must, however, have had more in them than ordinary hearers appreciated, for Smith thought so highly of Bogle's conversation that when he invited Rogers to the club on this particular occasion he mentioned that Bogle, a very clever person, was to be there, and said "I must go and hear Bogle talk."[351]

Rogers was with Smith again on Sunday the 19th, and used ever afterwards to speak of that particular Sunday as the most memorable in his life, for he breakfasted with Robertson, heard him preach in the Old Greyfriars in the forenoon, heard Blair preach in the High Church in the afternoon, drank coffee thereafter with Mrs. Piozzi, and finished the day by supping with Adam Smith. He had called on Smith "between sermons," as they say in Scotland, and apparently close on the hour for service, since "all the bells of the kirks" were ringing. But Smith was going for an airing, and his chair was at the door. The sedan was much in vogue in Edinburgh at that period, because it threaded the narrow wynds and alleys better than any other sort of carriage was able to do. Smith met Rogers at the door, and after exchanging the few observations about Bogle and the club to which I have already alluded, he invited his young friend to come back to supper in the evening, and also to dinner on Monday, because he had asked Henry Mackenzie, the author of the Man of Feeling, to meet him. "Who could refuse?" writes Rogers. Smith then set out in his sedan, and Rogers walked up to the High Church to hear Blair. Returning to Panmure House at nine, he found there, he says, all the company who were at the club on Friday except Bogle and Macaulay, and with the addition of a Mr. Muir from Goettingen. (I do not know who Macaulay and Muir were.) They spoke of Junius, and Smith suspected Single-speech Hamilton of the authorship, on the ground of the well-known story, which seems to have been then new to Rogers, and which Smith had been told by Gibbon, that on one occasion when Hamilton was on a visit at Goodwood, he informed the Duke of Richmond that there was a devilish keen letter from Junius in the Public Advertiser of that day, and mentioned even some of the points it made; but when the Duke got hold of the paper he found the letter itself was not there, but only an apology for its absence. From this circumstance Hamilton's name came to be mentioned in connection with the authorship of the letters, and they ceased to appear. Smith's argument was that so long as the letters were attributed to men who were not their writers, such as Lord Lansdowne or Burke, they continued to go on, but immediately the true author was named they stopped. The conversation passed on to Turgot and Voltaire and the Duke of Richelieu, and its particulars have been stated already in previous parts of this work.[352]

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