Chap 22: Correspondence in 1778

Chap 22: Various Correspondence in 1778


  • Soon after Smith settled in Edinburgh, he received a presentation copy of a new edition of Maximes from his old French friends:
    • the Duchesse d’Enville and
    • the Duc de la Rochefoucauld, her son.
      • It was written by François de La Rochefoucauld, their ancestor.
  • It was accompanied by the following letter from the Duke himself.
    • He informs Smith that despite of the way François is mentioned in the Theory of Moral Sentiments, the Duke once tried to translate it.
    • He only abandoned the task when he found a translation by Abbé Blavet in 1774.
  • The Duke was Quesnay’s disciple and a regular frequenter of Mirabeau’s economic dinners.
    • It is interesting that he took no notice in his letter of Smith’s greater work, so lately published.

Paris, March 3, 1778.

Le désir de se rappeller à votre souvenir, monsieur, quand on a eu l’honneur de vous connoître doit vous paroître fort naturel; permettez que nous saisissons pour cela, ma mère et moi, l’occasion d’une édition nouvelle des Maximes de la Rochefoucauld, dont nous prenons la liberté de vous offrir un exemplaire. Vous voyez que vous n’avons point de rancune, puisque le mal que vous avez, dit de lui dans la Théorie des Sentimens Moraux ne nous empêche point de vous envoyer ce même ouvrage. Il s’en est même fallu de peu que je ne fisse encore plus, car j’avois eu peutêtre la témérité d’entreprendre une traduction de votre Théorie; mais comme je venois de terminer la première partie, j’ai vu paroître la traduction [Pg 340]de M. l’Abbé Blavet, et j’ai été forcé de renoncer au plaisir que j’aurois eu de faire 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 premièrement de l’excuser, en disant, qu’il avoit toujours vu les hommes à la Cour, et dans la guerre civile, deux théâtres sur lesquels ils sont certainement plus mauvais qu’ailleurs; et ensuite de justifier, par la conduite personnelle de l’auteur, les principes qui sont certainement trop généralisés dans son ouvrage. Il a pris la partie pour le tout; et parceque les gens qu’il avoit eu le plus sous les yeux étoient animés par l’amour-propre, il en a fait le mobile général de tous les hommes. Au reste quoique son ouvrage mérite 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 complète des oeuvres de votre illustre ami M. Hume? Nous l’avons sincèrement regretté.

Recevez, je vous 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 obéissant serviteur,

Le Duc de la Rochefoucauld.[295]

  • We do not know Smith’s immediate answer to this letter.
    • The offending allusion to Francois remained unmodified in the new edition of the Theory which appeared in 1781.
    • But eventually, he thought that he had done Francois an injustice by associating him in the same condemnation with Mandeville.
  • When Dugald Stewart visited Paris in 1789, he was commissioned by Smith to:
    • express his sincere regret to the Duc de la Rochefoucauld for having done so, and
    • inform him that the error would be repaired in its next edition which was then in preparation.[296]
  • This was done.
  • In that final edition:
    • the allusion to Rochefoucauld was entirely suppressed, and
    • the censure was confined to Mandeville alone.


  • Smith’s French friends remonstrated with [Pg 341]him about an incidental allusion in the Theory of Moral Sentiments.
    • Lord Kames was preparing an elaborate attack on the theory of the book itself.
      • He proposed to incorporate this in a new edition of his own Principles of Morality and Religion.
      • At 83, he was as keen for metaphysical controversy as he had been with Bishop Butler 60 years before.
      • However, before publishing this examination of the theory, he sent the manuscript to Smith for review and received the following reply:

November 16, 1778.

My Dear Lord

  • Thank you for your proposed objections to my system in your new edition.
    • Your tone was perfectly friendly and polite.
    • I would be extremely peevish and ill-tempered I opposed their publication.
  • I am extremely sorry for having a different opinion from you.
    • You are:
      • a very able judge of the subject and
      • an old and good friend.
  • But differences of this kind are inevitable.
    • Besides, Partium contentionibus respublica crescit.
  • I should have waited been waiting on your Lordship before this time.
    • But a cold for these past four or five days made it inconvenient for me to go out in the evening.
  • Remember me to Mrs. Drummond,[297]

Believe me to be, my dear Lord, your most obliged and most humble servant,

Adam Smith.

  • Smith probably discussed the merits of Lord Kames’s objections with his lordship already
    • so that he saw no occasion to reply to them in his letter.
  • Kames principally combated the idea that sympathy with the sufferings of another originated from our imagining what would be our own feelings if we were in the sufferer’s place.
    • On the contrary, he contends that [Pg 342]:
      • it is excited directly by the perception of the screams, contortions, tears, or other outward signs of the pain that is endured, and
      • trying to put ourselves in the sufferer’s place produces really a self-satisfaction because of our own immunity from his troubles.
        • This does not awaken our pity.
        • Instead, it moderates and reduces it.


  • His second objection is that if Smith’s theory were true, those with the strongest imaginations would feel the force of the moral duties most sensibly, and vice versa.
    • This is contradicted by experience.
  • His last objection is that while the theory proposes to explain the origin of the moral sentiments so far as they respect other persons, it fails entirely to account for those sentiments in regard to ourselves.
    • Our distress on losing an only son and our gratitude for a kindly office do not need to be explained.
    • They cannot be explained by imagining ourselves to be other persons.


  • Smith first acquaintances in Edinburgh was Sir John Sinclair.
    • He was a young Caithness laird who was presently to make a considerable figure in public life.
    • He was the:
      • patriotic and laborious founder of the Board of Agriculture,
      • promoter of the Statistical Account of Scotland, and
      • author of:
        • the History of the Public Revenue, the Code of Agriculture, the Code of Health, and
        • many pamphlets on many subjects.
  • Sinclair was not yet in Parliament when Smith came to Edinburgh in the end of 1777.
    • But his hands were already full of serious work.
    • He was busy with his History of the Public Revenue, in which Smith gave him every assistance he could give.
    • He had actually finished a treatise on the Christian Sabbath.
    • In deference to Smith’s advice, he never gave it to the press.
  • The object of this treatise was to show that:
    • the puritanical Sabbath observance of Scotland had no countenance in Holy Scripture, and
    • while part of the day should be devoted to divine service, the rest might be usefully employed in non-religious occupations [Pg 343] without infringing any divine law.
  • When the work was completed, Sinclair showed the manuscript to Smith, who dissuaded him strongly from printing it.
    • He said:
      • “Your work, Mr. Sinclair is very ably written.
      • But you should not to publish it.
      • For the Sabbath as a political institution is of inestimable value independently of its claim to divine authority.[298]


  • One day Sinclair, told Smith of the surrender of Burgoyne at Saratoga in October 1777.
    • He exclaimed in the deepest concern that the nation was ruined.
  • Smith’s calm reply was: ‘There is a lot of ruin in a nation.’
  • In November 1778, Sinclair wanted Smith to send him to Thurso Castle the loan of the important French book on contemporary systems of taxation.
    • It is so often quoted in the Wealth of Nations—the Mémoires concernant les Impositions
    • Only 100 copies were originally printed.
      • Only four found their way to Great Britain.
    • Smith naturally hesitated to send so rare a book so far.
    • But he promised to give Sinclair, when he returned to Edinburgh that book and everything else he had printed or written on the subject.
    • Smith’s letter is as follows:—

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

  • The Mémoires sur les Finances[299] are engaged for four months to come to Mr. John Davidson;[300]
    • When he is done with them, Mr. Smith would be very happy to accommodate Mr. Sinclair.
    • But he is a little uneasy about sending it so far.
  • He has consult the book many times in:
    • his private studies [Pg 344]and
    • the business of his present employment.
  • He is therefore not very willing to let it go out of Edinburgh.
  • The book was never properly published.
    • But there were a few more copies printed than was necessary for the Commission, for whose use it was compiled.
  • One of these I obtained through Mr. Turgot.
    • He was the late Controller-General of the Finances.
  • Of the three copies in Great Britain, one belongs to a noble lord, who obtained it by connivance, as he told me;[301]
    • one is in the Secretary of State’s office
    • and the third belongs to a private gentleman.
      • Those two were probably obtained in the same way as the first.
  • If any accident should happen to my book, the loss is irreparable.
  • When Mr. Sinclair comes to Edinburgh, I shall be very happy to give to him that book and everything else I have on the subject, both printed and manuscript.

I am, with the highest respect for his character, his most obedient humble servant,

Adam Smith.

Edinburgh, November 24, 1778.[302]

  • The Mémoires was printed in 1768.
  • But it may be inferred, from Smith’s account of the extreme difficulty of getting a copy, that he only obtained his in 1774, on the advent of Turgot to power.
    • If true, much in the chapters on taxation in the Wealth of Nations must have been written in London after that date.
  • Sir John’s biographer quotes a passage from another letter of Smith in connection with his correspondent’s financial studies.
    • Archdeacon Sinclair describes this letter as a “holograph letter in six folio pages”.
    • It is is no longer extant.
    • But it concluded with the following remarks on the taxation of the poor’s necessities and luxuries:

I dislike all taxes that may affect the necessary expenses of the poor.

  • According to circumstances, they:
    • oppress the [Pg 345]people immediately subject to them, or
    • are repaid with great interest by the rich, i.e. by their employers in the advanced wages of their labour.
  • I very much approve taxes on the luxuries of the poor, such as on their beer and spirituous liquors, as long as they are moderate as not to give much temptation to smuggling.
    • I look on them as the best of sumptuary laws.
  • I could write a volume on the folly and the bad effects of all the legal encouragements given to the linen manufacture or the fisheries.—
  • I have the honour to be, with most sincere regard, my dear friend, most affectionately yours,

Adam Smith.[303]


[295] Stewart’s Works, x. 46.

[296]Ibid., v. 256.

[297] Mrs. Drummond is Lord Kames’s wife.

  • She had succeeded to the estate of her father, Mr. Drummond of Blair Drummond.
  • Along with her husband, she assumed her father’s surname and was now Mrs. Home Drummond.
  • The title of a Scotch judge is not extended, even by courtesy, to his wife.

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

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

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

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

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

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



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