Imagens das páginas
PDF
ePub

fore, I do resign my office of professor of moral philosophy in the university of Glasgow, and in the college thereof, with all the emoluments, privileges, and advantages, which belong to it. I reserve, however, my right to the salary for the current half-year, which commenced at the 10th of October, for one part of my salary, and at Martinmas last for another; and I desire that this salary may be paid to the gentleman who does that part of my duty which I was obliged to leave undone, in the manner agreed on between my very wor thy colleagues before we parted. I never was more anxious for the good of the college than at this moment; and I sincerely wish, that whoever is my successor, he 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.'

His lordship having transmitted the above to the professors, a meeting was held; on which occasion the following honourable testimony of the sense they entertained of the worth of their former colleague was entered in their minutes :

The meeting accept of Dr. Smith's resignation in terms of the above let ter; 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; 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 talents 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.'

In the first visit that Mr. Smith and his noble pupil made to Paris, they only remained ten or twelve days; after which, they proceeded to Thoulouse, where, during a residence of eighteen months, Mr. Smith had an opportunity of extending his information concerning the internal policy of France, by the intimacy in which he lived with some of the members of the parliament. After visiting several other places in the south of France, and residing two months at Geneva, they returned about Christmas to Paris. Here Mr. Smith ranked among his friends many of the highest literary characters, among whom were several of the most distinguished of those political philosophers who were denominated Economists.

Before Mr. Smith left Paris, he received a flattering letter from the unfortunate Duke of Rochefoucault, with a copy of a new edition of the Maxims of his grandfather. Notwithstanding the unfavourable manner in which the opinions of the author of that work were mentioned in the Theory of Moral Sentiments, the Duke informed Mr. Smith, on this occasion, that he had been prevented only from finishing a translation, which he had begun, of his estimable system of morals, into French, by the knowledge of having been anticipated in the design. He also observed, that some apology might be made for his ancestor, when it was considered, that he formed his opinions of man

kind in two of the worst situations of life, a court and a camp. The last communication Mr. Smith had with this nobleman was in 1789, when he gave him to understand, that he would no longer rank the name of Rochefoucault with that of the author of the Fable of the Bees; and, accordingly, in the first edition that was afterwards published of the Theory of Moral Sentiments, this promised alteration was made.

The next ten years of his life, after his arrival from the continent, Mr. Smith passed with his mother at Kirkaldy, though he occasionally, during that time, visited London and Edinburgh. Mr. Hume, who considered a town as the proper scene for a man of letters, made many attempts to prevail on him to leave his retirement.

At length, in the beginning of the year 1776, Mr. Smith accounted to the world for his long retreat, by the publication of his Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations.' This work chiefly comprehended the subject of the fourth and last division of his lectures, namely, those political regulations that have their origin in expediency. For about twenty years of his life, his attention had been chiefly devoted to the study of subjects connected with the science of political economy. His long residence in the mercantile city of Glasgow afforded him opportunities of deriving information, in many particulars, from the best sources; his travels on the continent contributed to extend his knowledge, and correct many of those misapprehensions of life and manners which the best descriptions of them are found to convey; and the intimacy in which he lived with some of the leaders of the sect of economists, and other writers on the subject of political economy, could not fail to assist him in methodizing his speculations, and of adding to the soundness of his conclusions. After his arrival in this country, he wanted nothing more than leisure, to arrange his materials, and prepare them for publication: and for this purpose he passed in retirement the subsequent ten years.

The great aim of Mr. Smith's Inquiry, the fruit of so much research, and the work of so many years, is, as professor Stewart observes, to direct the policy of nations with respect to one most important class of its laws, those which form its system of political economy: and he has unquestionably,' the same eloquent writer adds, had the merit of presenting to the world the most comprehensive and perfect work that has yet appeared on the general principles of any branch of legislation.'

'A great and leading object of Mr. Smith's speculations,' as Mr. Stewart also observes, 'is to demonstrate, that the most effectual plan for advancing a people to greatness, is to maintain that order of things which nature has pointed out, by allowing every man, as long as he observes the rules of justice, to pursue his own interest in his own way, and to bring both his industry and his capital into the freest competition with those of his fellow citizens.'

Several authors, in this country, had before written on commercial affairs, but Mr. Smith was the first who reduced to a regular form and order the information that was to be obtained on that subject, and deduced from it the policy which an enlightened commercial nation

ought to adopt. The successful manner in which he has treated this unlimited freedom of trade, as well as some others, and his able exposure of the errors of the commercial system, have rendered the science of which he treats highly interesting to the great body of the people; and a spirit of inquiry, on every branch of political economy, has, in consequence, been excited, which promises now, more than ever, to be attended with the most beneficial effects. This intricate science, the most important to the interests of mankind though long neglected, Dr. Smith has had the merit of advancing so far, as to lay a foundation, on which, it may safely be said, investigation may for a long time proceed.

It has frequently been alleged, that Dr. Smith was indebted for a large portion of the reasonings in his Inquiry to the French economists, and that the coincidence between some branches of his doctrine and theirs, particularly those which relate to freedom of trade and the powers of labour, is more than casual. But Professor Stewart has ably vindicated him from this charge, and established his right to the general principles of his doctrine, which, he thinks, were altogether original, and the result of his own reflections. That he, however, derived some advantage from his intimacy with Turgot, and those great men who were at the head of the sect of economists, and, perhaps, adopted some of their illustrations, it would be as unnecessary to deny, as it would be far from discreditable to his talents to acknowledge.

[ocr errors]
[ocr errors]

There is also a similar, or perhaps a greater coincidence between many parts of his doctrine and the opinions of Sir James Stewart, as detailed in his Inquiry into the Principles of Political Economy.' This congruity of opinion is chiefly apparent in their respective conclusions concerning the effects of competition, the principles of exchangeable value, the relation between the interest of money and the profit of stock,-the functions of coin,-the rise and progress of credit, -and the sources and limits of taxation. As this author had published his Inquiry many years before Dr. Smith's work appeared, and had, besides, lived in great intimacy with him, there was some reason to believe, what has been often asserted, that he possessed a just claim to some of the doctrines contained in that work, though Dr. Smith never once mentioned his name in any part of his work. But the present Sir James Stewart, who has recently published a full edition of the writings of his father, relinquishes, on his part, all such pretensions. With the partiality of a friend, in ranking his father with Dr. Smith, he gives it as his opinion, however, that both had, with original powers of equal strength, drawn their knowledge from the same source, the French economists.

Dr. Mandeville has also, of late, got the credit of being the author of those Principles of Political Economy, which have interested the world for the last fifty years; and to him alone, it is said, not only the English, but also the French writers, are indebted for their doctrines in that science. In the work of this eccentric writer, there seems, indeed, a similarity of opinion on some of the more obvious sources of wealth, particularly in the division of labour, which Dr. Smith investigates so fully; and in the erroneous doctrine of produc

tive and non-productive labour; and also, perhaps, on some other points: but it would be difficult to show, that he ought, on this account, to be considered the author of all, or even the chief part of what has been written on the subject. On this, as well as on all questions of a similar nature, a great diversity of opinions will subsist. But it may be a matter of curiosity to those who are unacquainted with his work, the Fable of the Bees, not only to trace the 'connection of that author's sentiments with what is advanced by subsequent writers on this important subject, but also to learn his peculiar notions of morality, that attracted, at one time, so much attention. These last, Dr. Smith says, though described by a lively and humorous, yet coarse and rustic eloquence, which throws an air of truth and probability on them, are, almost in every respect, erroneous.

Soon after the publication of the Wealth of Nations, Mr. Smith received the following congratulatory letter from Mr. Hume, six months before his death, dated Edinburgh, 1st April 1776.

[ocr errors]

Euge! Belle! Dear Mr. Smith-I am much pleased with your performance, and the perusal of it has taken me from a state of great anxiety. It was a work of so much expectation, by yourself, by your friends, and by the public, that I trembled for its appearance; but am now much relieved; not but that the reading of it necessarily requires so much attention, and the public is disposed to give so little, that I shall still doubt for some time of its being at first very popular. But it has depth, and solidity, and acuteness, and is so much illustrated by curious facts, that it must at last take the public attention. It is probably much improved by your last abode in London. If you were here at my fireside, I should dispute some of your principles. But these, and a hundred other points, are fit, only to be discussed in conversation. 1 hope it will be soon; for I am in a very bad state of health, and cannot afford a long delay.'

The publication of this great work drew praise to its author, indeed, from many different quarters.-Dr. Barnard, in a political epistle, addressed to Sir Joshua Reynolds, where the characteristic qualities of some eminent literary men of that time are brought forward, spoke of Smith as one who would teach him how to think. Gibbon made honourable mention of him in his Roman history; and Mr. Fox contributed, in no small degree, to extend his reputation, by observing in the House of Commons, that the way, as my learned friend Dr. Adam Smith says, for a nation, as well as an individual, to be rich, is for both to live within their income.'

[ocr errors]

The opinion which Dr. Johnson delivered, at that time, on its being alleged by Sir John Pringle, that a person who, like Dr. Smith, was not practically acquainted with trade, could not be qualified to write on that subject, may also be mentioned here, though somewhat erroneous, as far as it respects the received doctrines of Political Economy :'He is mistaken,' said Johnson. A man who has never been engaged in trade himself, may undoubtedly write well on trade; and there is nothing which requires more to be illustrated by philosophy than trade does. As to mere wealth, that is to say, money, it is clear that one nation, or one individual, cannot increase its store but by

making another poorer; but trade procures what is more valuable, the reciprocation of the peculiar advantages of different countries. A merchant seldom thinks of any but his own trade. To write a good book upon it, a man must have extensive views. It is not necessary to have practised, to write well upon a subject.' *

On the Inquiry into the Causes of the Wealth of Nations, it only remains farther to be observed, that its success has been every way commensurate to its merits. It has, however, been often regretted, that the author did not live to favour the world with his reasonings on those important events which have taken place since 1784, when he put the last hand to his invaluable work. That another, with competent talents, and a mind disposed to the task, should soon appear, to treat of these occurrences, and give a satisfactory view of the progress of the science from that time to the present, is not to be expected. But as the honour to be gained from a successful execution of such an undertaking is very considerable, it is not to be wondered at that an attempt of this kind should be made. Accordingly, Mr Playfair of London has had the boldness to follow Smith, by endeavouring to supply, in part, this desideratum, by adding supplementary chapters and notes to the Treatise on the Wealth of Nations.

But it is greatly to be feared, that there are few persons who have read this improved edition, as it is called, of Dr. Smith's Inquiry, but will still look forward to the accomplishment of the wishes they must previously have formed, for a continuation, and probably an illustration, of the discussions contained in that work. Leaving, therefore, the supplementary chapters and elucidations of Mr Playfair, it must be observed, that Dr. Smith has, on this occasion, been equally unfortunate in a biographer. The detail of his peaceful life is almost lost among dissertations on the wickedness of atheism and the horrors of a revolution. But these dissertations, strangely misplaced as they appear to be, would certainly not alone have been sufficient to attract observation here, whatever latitude the author might have allowed to himself on such subjects. When he goes on, however, to apologise for Dr. Smith's acquaintance with some individuals among the economists, and to connect the whole of that sect with those philosophers to whom he ascribes the evils which have so long afflicted France, his opinions become still more insupportable. It will, perhaps, be said, and with some reason, that, in this instance, at least, the writer has followed those alarmists, who, on any men of learning belonging to that country being mentioned, immediately ally them to the revolutionists without regard to difference of opinion, or distance of time.

The reputation, however, of the economists is too well established to be affected, either by the clamours of the ignorant, or the mad intemperance of political alarmists. The doctrine of the great men who formed the school of the economists, was, that the produce of the land is the sole or principal source of the revenue and wealth of every country; and this doctrine, with the manner of deriving from it the greatest possible advantage, it is almost universally acknowledged, engaged entirely their

• Boswell's Life of Jolinson, vol. iv. p. 17.

« AnteriorContinuar »