Chap 10: London

Chap 10: First Visit to London

 

  • Smith visited London for the first time in September 1761, when Hume and his other Scotch friends were already there.
  • He had not visited London in the seven years’ he was at Oxford.
    • He never left Oxford during that time. (The Balliol Buttery Books)
    • He had not visited London in the first 10 years he spent in Glasgow, otherwise the University would have had some record of it. (Mr. Rogers)
  • Glasgow University had much business to transact in London then.
    • It would have commissioned Smith if he was known to be going there.
    • It only did so on 1761.
  • But on June 16, 1761, the Senate learned of Smith’s purpose of going to London.
    • They authorised him:
      • to get the accounts of the College’s ordinary revenue and the subdeanery for crops 1755, 1756, 1757, and 1758 cleared with the Treasury.
        • The Treasury was then always in deep arrears.
      • to meet with Mr. Joshua Sharpe and settle his accounts with the lands given to the College by Dr. Williams, such as the Dr. Williams of Williams’s Library.
      • to inquire into:
        • the state of the division of Snell’s estate as to Coleburn farm, and
        • the affair of the Prebends of Lincoln; and
      • to get all particulars about the[Pg 153] £500 costs in the Snell lawsuit with Balliol, which had to be paid to the University.
  • Those documents were delivered on August 27 to Smith in præsentia.
    • On October 15, after his return, he reported what he had done.
    • He produced a certificate.
      • It was signed by the Secretary to the Treasury, finding that the University had in those four years and the years preceding spent £2631:6:5-11/12 above their revenue .
  • During Smith’s residence in Glasgow, the University had various important and difficult business in London.
    • They would be always glad to get one of their own to attend to personally on the spot.
    • Smith was never asked to transact any of this business for them except in 1761.
      • We can infer that he was never in London on any other occasion during his connection with that University.

 

  • This journey to London in 1761 is memorable because it constituted the economic “road to Damascus” for a future Prime Minister of England.
    • I believe that during this journey, Smith was traveling with Lord Shelburne and converted him to free trade.
    • In 1795, Shelburne  was then Marquis of Lansdowne.
      • He writes Dugald Stewart: “I owe the difference between light and darkness of the best part of my life to my journey with Mr. Smith from Edinburgh to London.
      • The novelty of his principles, added to my youth and prejudices, made me unable to comprehend them then.
      • But he urged them with so much benevolence and eloquence, that they took a certain hold.
      • It did not develop itself so as to arrive at full conviction for some few years after.
      • But I can truly say it has constituted ever since the happiness of my life and the source of any little consideration I may have enjoyed in it.”[120]

 

  • Shelburne was the first English statesman, except perhaps[Pg 154] Burke, who grasped and advocated free trade as a broad political principle.
  • Though his biographer, Lord Edmond Fitzmaurice, attributes his conversion to Morellet.
  • From the letter to Stewart, it is clear that Morellet only watered what Smith had sowed.

 

  • Therefore, it is important to fix the date of this interesting journey.
    • Lord Shelburne says it happened in his own youth.
    • Smith’s only journeys to London then may be called Shelburne’s youth, made in 1761, 1763, and 1773.
  • We do not know if Shelburne was in Scotland any of these years.
    • His brother was the Hon. Thomas Fitzmaurice.
      • He had been:
        • studying under Smith in Glasgow, and
        • living in Smith’s house.
    • In 1761, he left Glasgow for Oxford.
  • Shelburne’s father died in 1761.
    • From his correspondence with Sir William Blackstone, Shelburne took a very responsible concern in his younger brother’s education and welfare.
    • He might have gone to Scotland to bring him back.
  • This circumstance seems to turn the balance in favour of 1761 and against the other two dates.

 

  • The journey was not in 1773, for Shelburne would hardly have thought of himself as so young then.
    • Six years after he had been Secretary of State, and besides he had probably cast off his prejudices by that time, and was already (as weat that date shall presently find) receiving instruction from Smith on colonial policy in 1767.
    • Whether it was 1761 or 1763, in either case it shows at what a long period before the appearance of the Wealth of Nations Smith was advocating those broad principles which struck Shelburne at the time for their “novelty,” and
    • were only fully comprehended and accepted by him a few years afterwards.

 

  • We do not know the details of Smith’s visit to London on this occasion.
  • But I think the notorious incident of his altercation with Johnson at the house of Strahan the [Pg 155] printer must be referred to this visit.
  • The story was told by Robertson to Boswell and Allan Ramsay, the painter, one evening in 1778 while dining at Ramsay’s house.
    • Johnson was expected as one of the guests.
    • Before Johnson arrived, the conversation turned on him.
    • Robertson said, “He and I have always been very gracious.
    • The first time I met him was one evening at Strahan’s, when he had just had an unlucky altercation with Adam Smith, to whom he had been so rough that Strahan,
    • After Smith was gone, he had remonstrated, and told him that I was coming soon, and that he was uneasy to think that he might behave in the same way to me.
  • Johnson said ‘No, no, sir, I warrant you Robertson and I shall do very well.’
  • Accordingly he was gentle and good-humoured and gracious with me the whole evening, and
  • he has been so on every occasion that we have met since.
  • I have often said laughing that I have been in a great measure indebted to Smith for my good reception.”[121]

 

  • Tthis incident must have occurred years before 1778.
    • The date of Ramsay’s dinner-party at which it was related, for Robertson speaks of having met Johnson many times between;
    • and it probably occurred before 1763, because in 1763 Boswell mentions in his journal having told Johnson one evening that Smith had in his lectures in Glasgow expressed the strongest preference for rhyme over blank verse, and Johnson alludes in his reply to an unfriendly meeting he had once had with Smith.
  • He said “Sir, I was once with Smith,
    • We did not take to each other.
    • But had I known that he loved rhyme so much as you tell me he does I should have hugged him.”[122]
  • This answer implies that the meeting was not quite recent in 1763.
    • If it occurred before 1763, it must have been in 1761.

 

  • This unhappy altercation created the legendary anecdote which was given to the world by three independent and important authorities as Sir Walter Scott, Lord Jeffrey, and Bishop Wilberforce.
    • This has made it undeservingly immortal [Pg 156].
  • Scott communicates the anecdote to Croker for his edition of Boswell’s Johnson, as told to him by Millar.
    • Millar had it from Smith the night it happened.
  • Wilberforce says his father heard it from Smith.
    • Jeffrey reviewed Wilberforce’s book in the Edinburgh Review.
      • He says he heard the story as Wilberforce tells it nearly 50 years before, “from the mouth of one of a party into which Mr. Smith came immediately after the collision.”

 

  • “Mr. Boswell has chosen to omit (in his account of Johnson’s visit to Glasgow), for obvious reasons that Johnson and Adam Smith met at Glasgow;
  • but I have been assured by Professor Millar that they did so, and
  • that Smith, leaving the party in which he had met Johnson, happened to come to another company where Millar was.
  • Knowing that Smith had been in Johnson’s society, they were anxious to know what happened.
    • the more so as Dr. Smith’s temper seemed much ruffled.
  • At first, Smith would only answer, ‘He’s a brute; he’s a brute;’
    • But on closer examination, it appeared that Johnson no sooner saw Smith than he attacked him for some point of his famous letter on Hume’s death.
  • Smith vindicated the truth of his statement.
    • ‘What did Johnson say?’
    • Smith replied with deepest resentment: ‘Why, he said, You lie.’
    • ‘And what did you reply?’
    • ‘I said, You are a son of a ——!’
  • On such terms did these two great moralists meet and part.
  • Such was the classical dialogue between two great teachers of philosophy.” (Scott :[123])

 

  • Wilberforce’s version is identical with Scott’s.
    • Except [Pg 157] it commits the absurdity of making Smith tell the story of his first telling it.
  • Adam Smith said “‘Some of our friends were anxious that we should meet.
    • A party was arranged in the evening for it.
    • After entering another society, I was soon a little confused.
    • “Have you met Dr. Johnson?” my friends exclaimed.
    • “Yes, I have.”
    • “And what passed between you?” and so on.
  • All this is legendary outgrowth on the very face of it, and nonsensical even for that.
    • The story was told by Scott.
    • It was mostly mythical.
  • Johnson was only in Glasgow on October 29, 1773.
    • In October 1773, Smith was in London.
    • He was writing the Wealth of Nations,[124] .
  • Hume died in 1776.
    • So that there were better and more “obvious reasons” than Scott imagined for Boswell’s omitting mention of a meeting between Johnson and Smith at Glasgow which never took place, and a collision between them about a famous letter which was not then written.
  • Time, place, and subject are all wrong.
    • But these Scott might think but the mortal parts of the story, and
    • He sometimes varied them in the telling himself.
  • Moore heard him tell it at his own table at Abbotsford somewhat differently from the version he gave to Croker.[125]
    • But when so much is plainly the insensible creation of the imagination, what reliance can be placed on the remainder?
  • At their very first meeting, Smith and Johnson did have an outrageous personal altercation in Strahan’s house in London in September 1761.
    • Strong words must have passed between them (Scott),
    • Their host declared[Pg 158] that:
      • Johnson to be entirely in the wrong, and
      • Smith withdrew from the company, and would very possibly go to another company, his Scotch friends at the British Coffee-House in Cockspur Street.
        • It was then the great Scotch resort.
        • It was a house kept by the sister of his friend Bishop Douglas.
        • It was frequented much by Wedderburn, John Home, and others.
        • Smith’s own letters used to be addressed there.

 

  • If this little scandal could not be forgotten, Smith and Johnson were able to forget it entirely.
    • Smith was at a later period habitually met Johnson at the table of common friends in London.
    • He was elected in 1775 a member of Johnson’s famous club.
    • It would have been impossible if they kept the slightest animosity.
  • Johnson was still occasionally rude to Smith, as he was occasionally rude to every other club member.
    • Smith never had established the cordial personal friendship he enjoyed with Burke, Gibbon, or Reynolds.
    • But their common membership in the Literary Club is proof of the complete burial of their earlier quarrel.

 

FOOTNOTES:

[120] Stewart’s Life of Smith; Works, ed. Hamilton, vol. x. p. 95.

[121] Boswell’s Johnson, ed. Hill, iii. 331.

[122]Ibid. i. 427.

[123] Boswell’s Johnson, ed. Hill, v. 369.

[124] Book IV. chap. vii.

[125] Russell’s Life of Moore, p. 338.


 

Words: 1,896

 

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