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III. Account of the Life and Writings of Adam Smith, LL.D.


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page 55 note * Mr Smith, the father, was a native of Aberdeenshire, and in the earlier part of his life practised at Edinburgh as a writer to the Signet. He was afterwards private secretary to the Earl of Loudoun, (during the time that he held the offices of principal Secretary of State for Scotland; and of Keeper of the Great Seal), and continued in his employment till 1713 or 1714, when he was appointed comptroller of the customs at Kirkaldy. He was also clerk to the courts martial and councils of war for Scotland ; an office which he held from 1707 till his death. As it is now seventy years since he died, the accounts I have received of him are very imperfect; but from the particulars already mentioned, it may be presumed, that he was a man of more than common abilities.

page 56 note * George Drysdale, Esq; of Kirkaldy, brother of the late Dr Drysdale.

page 57 note * Redargutio Philosophiarum.

page 59 note * The uncommon degree in which Mr Smith retained possession, even to the close of his life, of different branches of knowledge which he had long ceased to cultivate, has been often remarked to me by my learned colleague and friend, Mr Dalzel, Professor of Greek in this University.—Mr Dalzel mentioned particularly the readiness and correctness of Mr Smith's memory on philological subjects, and the acuteness and skill he displayed in various conversations with him on some of the minutia of Greek grammar.

page 86 note * See his Natural History of Religion.

page 91 note * Published afterwards under the title of “An Essay on the History of Civil Society.”

page 94 note * Since the first; section was printed, I find that I have committed a slight inaccuracy in mentioning Mr Oswald and Mr Smith as school-fellows. The former was born in 1715 ; the latter in 1723. It appears, however, that their intimacy had commenced before Mr Smith went to the University.

page 95 note * I mention this fact on the respectable authority of James Ritchie, Esq; of Glasgow.

page 97 note * The day after his arrival at Paris, Mr Smith sent a formal resignation of his Professorship to the Rector of the University of Glasgow. “I never was more “anxious (says he in the conclusion of this letter) for the good of the College, “than at this moment; and I sincerely wish, that whoever is my successor may not “only do credit to the office by his abilities, but be a comfort to the very “excellent men with whom he is likely to spend his life, by the probity of his heart, “and the goodness of his temper.”

The following extract from the records of the University, which follows immediately after Mr Smith's letter of resignation, is at once a testimony to his assiduity as a Professor, and a proof of the just sense which that learned body entertained of the talents and worth of the colleague they had lost.

“The Meeting accept of Dr Smith's resignation, in terms of the above letter, “ and the office of Professor of Moral Philosophy in this University is therefore “ hereby declared to be vacant. The University, at the same time, cannot help “ expressing their sincere regret at the removal of Dr Smith, whose distinguished “ probity and amiable qualities procured him the esteem and affection of his “ colleagues; and whose uncommon genius, great abilities, and extensive learning, did “ so much honour to this society; his elegant and ingenious Theory of Moral “ Sentiments having recommended him to the esteem of men of taste and literature “ throughout Europe. His happy talent in illustrating abstracted subjects, and “ faithful assiduity in communicating useful knowledge, distinguished him as a “Professor, and at once afforded the greatest pleasure and the most important instruction “ to the youth under his care.”

page 98 note * The following letter, which has been very accidentally preserved, while it serves as a memorial of Mr Smith's connection with the family of Rochefoucauld, is so expressive of the virtuous and liberal mind of the writer, that I am persuaded it will give pleasure to the Society to record it in their Transactions.

Paris, 3. Mars 1778.

“Le desir de se ráppeller à votre souvenir, Monsieur, quand on a eu l'honneur de vous connoître, doit vous paroître sort naturel; permettez que nous faisissions pour cela, ma Mère et moi, l'occasion d'une édition nouvelle des Maximes de la Rochefoucauld, dont nous preons la liberté de vous offrir un exemplaire. Vous voyez que nous n'avons point de rancune, puisque le mal que vous avez dit de lui dans la Théorie des Sentimens Moraux, ne nous empeche point de vous envoier ce même ouvrage. Il s'en est même fallu de peu que je ne sisse encore plus, car j'avois eu peutêtre la témérité d'entreprendre une traduction de votre Théorie; mais comme je venois de terminer la premiere partie, j'ai vu paroître la traduction de M. l'Abbé Blavet, et j'ai été forcé de renoncer au plaisir que j'aurois eu de saire passer dans ma langue un des meilleurs ouvrages de la vôtre.

“Il auroit bien fallu pour lors entreprendre une justification de mon grandpère Peutêtre n'auroit-il pas été difficile, premierement de l'excuser, en disant, qu'il avoit toujours vu les hommes à la Cour, et dans la guerre civile, deux théatres sur lesquels ils sont certainement plus mauvais qu'ailleurs ; et ensuite de justifier par la conduite personelle de l'autein, les principes qui sont certainement trop généralisés dans son ouvrage. Il a pris la partie pour le tout ; et parceque les gens qu'il avoit eu le plus fous les yeux étoient animés par l'amour propre, il en a fait le mobile genéral de tous les hommes. Au reste, quoique son ouvrage merite à certains égards d'être combattu, il est cependant estimable même pour le fond, et beaucoup pour la forme.

“Permettez moi de vous demander, si nous aurons bientôt une édition complette des œuvres de votre illustre ami M. Hume? Nous l'avons sincèrement regretté.

“Recevez:, je vons supplie, l'expression sincère de tous les sentimens d'estime et d'attachement avec lesquels j'ai l'honneur d'être, Monsieur, votre très humble et très obeissant serviteur,

Le Duc de la Rochefoucauld.”

Mr Smith's last intercourse with this excellent man was in the year 1789, when he informed him by means of a friend who happened to be then at Paris, that in the future editions of his Theory the name of Rochefoucauld should be no longer classed with that of Mandeville. In the enlarged edition accordingly of that work, published a short time before his death, he has suppressed his censure of the author of the Maximes ; who seems indeed (however exceptionable many of his principles may be) to have been actuated, both in his life and writings, by motives very different from those of Mandeville. The real scope of these maxims is placed, I think, in a just light by the ingenious author of the notice prefixed to the edition of them published at Paris in 1778.

page 102 note * See the Preface to Voltaire's Oedipe, Edit. of 1729.

page 107 note * The length to which this Memoir has already extended, together with some other reasons which it is unnecessary to mention here, have induced me, in printing the following section, to confine myself to a much more general view of the subject than I once intended.

page 109 note * See the conclusion of his Theory of Moral Sentiments.

page 111 note * Science de la Legislation, par le Chev. Filangieri, Liv. i. chap. 13.

page 120 note * Elements of the Philosophy of the Human Mind, p. 261.

page 122 note * In proof of this, it is sufficient for me to appeal to a short history of the progress of political œconomy in France, published in one of the volumes of Ephemerides du Citoyen. See the first part of the volume for the year 1769. The paper is entitled, Notice abrégée des différents Ecrits modernes, qui ont concouru en France à former science de l'économie politique.

page 127 note * See Annual Register for the year 1776.

page 128 note * Some very affecting instances of Mr Smith's beneficence, in cases where he found it impossible to conceal entirely his good offices, have been mentioned to me by a near relation of his, and one of his most confidential friends, Miss Ross, daughter of the late Patrick Ross, Esq; of Innernethy. They were all on a scale much beyond what might have been expected from his fortune; and were accompanied with circumstances equally honourable to the delicacy of his feelings and the liberality of his heart.

page 129 note * Mr Smith observed to me, not long before his death, that after all his practice in writing, he composed as slowly, and with as great difficulty, as at first. He added, at the same time, that Mr Hume had acquired so great a facility in this respect, that the last volumes of his History were printed from his original copy, with a few marginal corrections.

It may gratify the curiosity of some readers to know, that when Mr Smith was employed in composition, he generally walked up and down his apartment, dictating to a secretary. All Mr Hume's works (I have been assured) were written with his own hand. A critical reader may, I think, perceive in the different style of these two classical writers, the effects of their different modes of study.

page 131 note * Since writing the above, I have been favoured by Dr Hutton with the following particulars.

“Some time before his last illness, when Mr Smith had occasion to go to London, he enjoined his friends, to whom he had entrusted the disposal of his manuscripts, that in the event of his death, they should destroy all the volumes of his lectures, doing with the rest of his manuscripts what they pleased. When now he had become weak, and saw the approaching period of his life, he spoke to his friends again upon the same subject. They entreated him to make his mind easy, as he might depend upon their fulfilling his desire. He was then satisfied. But some days afterwards, finding his anxiety not entirely removed, he begged one of them to destroy the volumes immediately. This accordingly was done ; and his mind was so much relieved, that he was able to receive his friends in the evening with his usual complacency.

“They had been in use to sup with him every Sunday; and that evening there was a pretty numerous meeting of them. Mr Smith not finding himself able to sit up with them as usual, retired to bed before supper ; and, as he went away, took leave of his friends by saying, “I believe we must adjourn this meeting to some other place.” He died a very few days afterwards.”

Mr Riddell, an intimate friend of Mr Smith's, who was present at one of the conversations on the subject of the manuscripts, mentioned to me, in addition to Dr Hutton's note, that Mr Smith regretted, “he had done so little.” “But I meant (said he) to have done more; and there are materials in my papers, of which I could have made a great deal. But that is now out of the question.”

III. Account of the Life and Writings of Adam Smith, LL.D.


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