Chap 32: Last Days

Chap 32: Last Days

 

  • The new edition of the Theory was Smith’s last published work.
  • A French newspaper, the Moniteur Universelle of Paris, announced on March 11, 1790 that Smith would do a critical examination of Montesquieu’s Esprit des Lois.
    • It predicted that the work would make an epoch in the history of politics and of philosophy.
    • It said, that at least, is the judgment of well-informed people who have seen parts of it, of which they speak with an enthusiasm of the happiest augury.
    • But the announcement was not made on any good authority.
  • Smith may probably enough have dealt with Montesquieu as he dealt with many other topics in the papers he had prepared towards his projected work on government.
    • But there is no evidence that he ever intended to publish a separate work on Montesquieu.
    • Before March 1790, his strength seems to have been much wasted.
  • The Earl of Buchan was in town in February and visited him.
    • Upon leaving Smith, the Earl said:
      • “My dear Doctor, I hope to see you oftener when I come to town next February,”
      • But Smith squeezed his lordship’s hand and replied, “My dear Lord Buchan,[365] I may be alive then [Pg 432]and perhaps half a dozen Februaries, but you never will see your old friend any more.
      • I find that the machine is breaking down, so that I shall be little better than a mummy”
        • —with a by-thought possibly to the mummies of Toulouse.
    • The Earl adds:
      • “I wanted to visit Smith in his last illness,
      • but the mummy stared me in the face and I was intimidated.”[366]

 

  • During the spring months, Smith got worse and weaker.
    • Though he seemed to rally at the first approach of the warm weather.
    • He sank at length again in June.
    • His condition seemed hopeless to his friends.
  • Long and painful as his illness was, he bore it with patience and a serene and even cheerful resignation.
  • On June 21, Henry Mackenzie wrote his brother-in-law, Sir J. Grant, that Edinburgh had just lost its finest woman, the beautiful Miss Burnet of Monboddo.
    • Burns called her “the most heavenly of all God’s works.”
    • In a few weeks, it would in all probability lose its greatest man, Adam Smith.
  • “He is now past all hopes of recovery, with which about three weeks ago we had flattered ourselves.” (Mackenzie)

 

  • A week later, Smellie the printer, wrote Smith’s young friend, Patrick Clason, in London:
    • “Poor Smith! we must soon lose him.
    • The moment he leaves will give a heart-pang to thousands.
    • Mr. Smith’s spirits are flat.
    • I am afraid his exertions to please his friends do him no good.
    • His intellect and senses are clear and distinct.
    • He wishes to be cheerful, but nature is omnipotent.
    • His body is extremely emaciated.
    • His stomach cannot admit of sufficient nourishment.
    • But, like a man, he is perfectly patient and resigned.”[367]

 

  • In all his weakness, he was still thoughtful of the care of his friends.
    • One of his last acts was to commend [Pg 433] the good offices of the Duke of Buccleugh, the children of his old friend and physician, Cullen.
      • Cullen died only a few months before Smith.
  • “In many respects, Adam Smith was a chaste disciple of Epicurus.
    • Smith’s last act resembled that of Epicurus leaving as a legacy to his friend and patron the children of his Metrodorus, the excellent Cullen.”[368] (Lord Buchan)

 

  • Smith’s old friend Adam Ferguson had been apparently estranged from Smith for some time.
    • When it became evident that the sickness was mortal, he immediately forgot their coolness, whatever it was about.
    • He came and waited on him with the old affection.
  • On July 31, 1790, Ferguson writes the death to Sir John Macpherson.
    • Macpherson was Warren Hastings’ successor as Governor-General of India.
  • “Your old friend Smith is no more.”
    • We knew he was dying for some months.
    • Matters were a little awkward when he was in health.
    • After seeing him, I went to him immediately and continued my attentions to the last.”[369]

 

  • Dr. Carlyle mentions that:
    • the Edinburgh literary circle’s harmony of the 18th century was often ruffled by little tifts, and
      • Dr. Carlyle and John Home were generally called in to compose them.
    • the usual source of the trouble was Ferguson’s “great jealousy of rivals,” and especially of Hume, Smith, and Robertson.
  • But it would not be right to ascribe the fault to Ferguson merely on that account,
    • for Carlyle hints that Smith too had “a little jealousy in his nature,”
    • although he admits him to have been a man of “unbounded benevolence.”
  • But whatever had come between them, it is pleasant to find Ferguson:
    • dismissing it so unreservedly, and
    • forgetting his own infirmities too—
      • He had been long [Pg 434]paralysed.
      • He went about buried in furs “like a philosopher from Lapland”—in order to cheer the last days of the friend of his youth. (Cockburn)

 

  • When Smith felt his end to be approaching, he evinced great anxiety to have all his papers destroyed except the few which he judged to be ready for publication.
    • Too feeble to do it himself, he repeatedly begged his friends Black and Hutton to destroy them for him.
  • A third friend, Mr. Riddell, was present on one of the occasions when this request was made.
    • He mentions that Smith regretted that:
      • “he had done so little.”
      • “But I meant to have done more.
      • There are materials in my papers of which I could have made a great deal, but that is now out of the question.”[370]
  • Black and Hutton always put off complying with Smith’s requests in the hope of his recovering his health or perhaps changing his mind.
  • But a week before his death, he expressly sent for them.
    • He asked them then and there to burn 16 volumes of manuscript to which he directed them.
    • This they did without knowing or asking what they contained.
  • 17 years before, he went to London with the manuscript of the Wealth of Nations.
    • He made Hume his literary executor.
    • He left instructions with Hume to:
      • destroy all his loose papers and 18 thin paper folio books “without any examination,” and
      • spare nothing but his fragment on the history of astronomy.
  • When the 16 volumes of manuscript were burnt, Smith’s mind seemed to be greatly relieved.
    • It appears to have been on a Sunday.
    • His friends came on the evening to supper.
    • They seem to have mustered strongly on this particular evening.
    • He was able to receive them with something of his usual cheerfulness.
  • He would even have stayed up and sat with them had they allowed him.
    • But they pressed [Pg 435]him not to do so, and he retired to bed about 9:30.
  • As he left the room, he turned and said:
    • “I love your company, gentlemen.
    • But I believe I must leave you to go to another world.”
  • These are the words as reported by Henry Mackenzie, who was present.
    • He gave Samuel Rogers an account of Smith’s death during his visit to London in the following year.[371]
  • Hutton gave a slightly different expression in his account to Stewart:
    • “I believe we must adjourn this meeting to some other place.”
  • Possibly both sentences were used by Smith.
    • For both are needed for the complete expression of the parting consolation he obviously meant to convey—that death is not a final separation, but only an adjournment of the meeting.

 

  • That was his last meeting with them in the earthly meeting-place.
    • He had gone to the other world before the next Sunday came.
    • He died on Saturday July 17, 1790.
  • He was buried in the Canongate churchyard:
    • near the simple stone which Burns placed on Fergusson’s grave, and
    • not far from the statelier tomb which later on received the remains of Dugald Stewart.
  • The grave is marked by an unpretending monument.
    • It states that Adam Smith, the author of the Wealth of Nations, lies buried there.

 

  • His death made less stir or rumour in the world than many of his admirers expected.
    • For example, Sir Samuel Romilly wrote on August 20 to a French lady who had wanted a copy of the new edition of the Theory of Moral Sentiments.
    • He says: “I have been surprised and am a little indignant how little impression his death has made here.
  • It has been scarcely noticed.
    • While for more than a year after Dr. Johnson’s death, only panegyrics of him was to be heard: lives, letters, and anecdotes.
    • Even at this moment, there are two more lives of him to start into existence.
  • [Pg 436] One should not be very much surprised that the public does not do justice to Smith’s works, since he did not do justice to them himself.
    • He always considered his Theory of Moral Sentiments a much superior work to his Wealth of Nations.”[372]
  • Even in Edinburgh, it seemed to make less impression than the death of a bustling divine.
    • It was certainly less than the death of the excellent but far less illustrious Dugald Stewart a generation later.
  • The newspapers had his obituary in two small paragraphs.
    • The only facts the writers were able to find were:
      • his early abduction by the gypsies, and
        • The Mercury and the Advertiser give a circumstantial account of this
      • that “Dr. Smith in private life was distinguished for philanthropy, benevolence, humanity, and charity.” (the Advertiser)
  • Lord Cockburn was then beginning to read and think, was struck with the general ignorance of Smith’s merits which his fellow-citizens exhibited shortly after his death.
    • “The middle-aged seemed to me to know little about the founder of the science (political economy) except that he had recently:
      • been a Commissioner of Customs and
      • written a sensible book.
    • The Liberal young of Edinburgh lived upon him.”[373]
  • Stewart was no sooner dead than a monument was raised to him on one of the best sites in the city.
    • The greater name of Smith has to this day no public monument in the city he so long adorned.

 

  • Black and Hutton were his literary executors.
  • In 1795, they published the literary fragments which had been spared from the flames.
  • His will was dated February 6, 1790.
    • He left his whole property to his cousin, David Douglas, afterwards Lord Reston.
    • It is subject to the condition that:
      • the legatee should follow the instructions of Black and Hutton in disposing of the MSS. and writings, and [Pg 437]
      • pay an annuity of £20 a year to Mrs. Janet Douglas, and after her death, £400 to Professor Hugh Cleghorn of St. Andrews and his wife.[374]
  • However, the property Smith left was very moderate.
    • His friends were surprised that it should have been so little.
    • Because he only maintained a moderate establishment.
  • But they had not known that he gave away large sums in secret charity.
    • William Playfair says that Smith’s friends suspected him of doing this.
    • They sometimes formed special juries to discovering evidences of it during his lifetime.
    • But Smith was “so ingenious in concealing his charity” that they never could discover it from witnesses,
      • Though they often found the strongest circumstantial evidence of it.[375]
  • Dugald Stewart was more fortunate.
    • Miss Ross was the daughter of the late Patrick Ross, Esq., of Innernethy.
      • Patrick Ross was one of Smith’s most confidential friends.
      • Miss Ross mentioned to Stewart of Smith’s beneficence when he could not hide his generosity.
        • His generosity was much beyond what would have been expected from his fortune.
        • It was combined with circumstances equally honourable to:
          • the delicacy of his feelings and
          • the liberality of his heart.
  • Sir James Mackintosh was a student of Cullen and Black’s in Smith’s closing years.
    • He used to meet Smith in private society occasionally.
    • Many years after this, he said to Empson:
      • “I have known Adam Smith slightly, Ricardo well, and Malthus intimately.
      • Is it not something to say for a science that its three greatest masters were about the three best men I ever knew?”[376]

[Pg 438]

  • Smith never sat for his picture.
    • Nevertheless, has has two excellent portraits by two very talented artists who had many opportunities of seeing and sketching him.
  • Tassie was a student at Foulis’s Academy of Design in Glasgow College when Smith was there.
    • He might have even modeled Smith then.
    • For we hear of Smith’s models being in all the booksellers’ windows in Glasgow at that time.
      • These models would have been made in the Academy of Design.
  • Tassie created two different medallions of Smith in later days.
  • Raspe wrote a catalogue of Tassie’s enamels.
          • It has the same date as the former.
          • It appears never to have been engraved.
    • Raspe mentions a third medallion of Smith [Pg 439]of Tassie’s:
      • “an enamel bust in chalcedony colour, engraved by F. Warner, after a model by J. Tassie.”
      • But this appears from Mr. Gray’s account to be a reduced version of the first of the two just mentioned.
    • He describes one of the largest as being modelled and cast by Tassie in his hard white enamel paste.
      • It resembles a cameo.
      • From this model J. Jackson, R.A., made a drawing.
        • It was engraved in stipple by C. Picart.
        • It was published in 1811 by Cadell and Davies.
      • Line engravings of the same model were subsequently made by John Horsburgh and R.C. Bell for successive editions of the Wealth of Nations.
        • It is accordingly Smith’s best portrait and the best known .
        • It is a profile bust showing handsome features:
          • full forehead,
          • prominent eyeballs,
          • well curved eyebrows,
          • slightly aquiline nose, and
          • firm mouth and chin.
        • It is inscribed, “Adam Smith in his 64th year, 1787. Tassie F.”
        • In this medallion, Smith wears a wig.
      • Mr. J.M. Gray tells us that:
        • Tassie executed another in “the antique manner:”
          • without the wig, and
          • with neck and breast bare.
        • “It shows the rounded form of the head, covered with curling hair and curving upwards from the brow to a point above the large ear, which is hidden in the other version.”[377] (Mr. Gray)
  • Kay made two portraits of Smith.
    • The first was done in 1787.
      • It represents him as he walked in the street.
    • The second was issued in 1790.
      • It represented him as he has entered an office, probably the Custom House.
  • There is a painting by T. Collopy in the National Museum of Antiquities at Edinburgh.
    • It is thought to be Adam Smith’s portrait because the title Wealth of Nations appears on the back of a book on the table in the picture.
    • But Stewart very explicitly says that Smith never sat for his portrait, so it is very doubtful.
  • All other likenesses of Smith are founded on those of Tassie and Kay.
    • Smith was:
      • of middle height,
      • full but not corpulent,
      • with erect figure,
      • well-set head, and
      • large gray or light blue eyes.
        • They beamed with “inexpressible benignity.”
    • He dressed so well that nobody seems to have remarked it.
    • While we hear of:
      • Hume’s black-spotted yellow coat,
      • Gibbon’s flowered velvet,
      • Hutton’s battered attire,
      • Henry Erskine’s gray hat with the torn rim.
    • But there is no allusion to Smith’s dress for fault or merit.

 

  • Smith’s books which went to his heir, Lord Reston, were divided.
    • On Lord Reston’s death, they were divided between his two daughters.
    • The economic books went to Mrs. Bannerman, the wife of the late Professor Bannerman of Edinburgh
    • The works on other subjects went to Mrs. Cunningham, wife of the Rev. Mr. Cunningham of Prestonpans.
  • Both portions still exist.
    • The former in the Library of the New College, Edinburgh, to which they have been presented by Dr. D. Douglas Bannerman of Perth; and
    • The latter is with Professor Cunningham of[Pg 440] Queen’s College, Belfast, except:
      • a few which were sold in Edinburgh in 1878, and
      • a section, consisting almost exclusively of Greek and Latin classics, which Professor Cunningham has presented to the library of the college of which he is a member.
  • Among other relics of Smith that are still extant are four medallions by Tassie, which very probably hung in his library.
  • They are medallions of his personal friends:
    • Black, the chemist;
    • Hutton, the geologist;
    • Dr. Thomas Reid, the metaphysician; and
    • Andrew Lumisden, the Pretender’s old secretary, and author of the work on Roman antiquities.

 

FOOTNOTES:

[365] Ascanius was the Earl’s pseudonym.

[366] The Bee, 1791, iii. 166.

[367] Kerr’s Memoirs of W. Smellie, i. 295.

[368] The Bee, 1791, iii. 167.

[369] Original letter in Edinburgh University Library.

[370] Stewart’s Works, x. 74.

[371] Clayden’s Early Life of Samuel Rogers, p. 168.

[372]Memoirs of Sir Samuel Romilly, i. 403.

[373] Cockburn’s Memorials of My Own Time, p. 45.

[374] Bonar’s Library of Adam Smith, p. xiv.

[375] Playfair’s edition of Wealth of Nations, p. xxxiv.

[376]Edinburgh Review, January 1837, p. 473.

[377] Bonar’s Library of Adam Smith, p. xxii.

 


Words: 2,735

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