Chap 16: Kirkcaldy

Chap 16: Kirkcaldy


  • When Smith left Glasgow, his mother and cousin went back again to Kirkcaldy.
    • He remained with them there for the next 11 years.
  • Hume thought that the countryside was unsuitable for a man of letters.
    • He tried unsuccessfully to persuade him to move to Edinburgh.
  • The gaiety and fullness of city life were much less to Smith than they were to Hume.
    • He had everything he needed in Kirkcaldy.
    • He had:
      • his work
      • his mother
      • his books
      • his daily walks in the sea breeze
      • Edinburgh always in the offing as a place of occasional resort.
  • Like Shakespeare at Stratford, Smith was said to like mingling with the simple old folk who were around him in his youth.
    • He had a few neighbours whose pursuits corresponded with his own.
  • James Oswald was now struck down with illness, a “terrible distress” (Smith).
    • He died in the second year after Smith’s return to Scotland.
    • However, Oswald spent some months in Kirkcaldy in the fall of 1767, and probably again in 1768.
  • Robert Beatson was one of Smith’s other literary neighbours.
    • He was the author of the Political Index and other works.
    • Smith saw much of him during this 11 years’ residence in Fife.
  • However, Smith’s chief resource, [Pg 240] throughout this period was his work.
    • It engaged his mind late and early until it told hard on his health.


  • After being established in Kirkcaldy for some weeks, Smith wrote Hume that:
    • he was immersed in study,
      • It was the only business he had.
    • his sole amusements were long solitary walks by the seaside, and
      • With a man of his gift or infirmity of abstraction, it would only be protractions of the study that preoccupied him.
    • he never was happier or more contented in all his life.
  • This letter was to serve a friend, as so usual with Smith.
    • It was a motive which never failed to overcome his aversion to writing.
  • Count de Sarsfield was Smith’s French friend.
    • He was his best and most agreeable friend in France.
    • Hume was now Undersecretary of State.
    • Smith who was then in London, wanted Hume to show the Count some attentions during his residence there.
    • Count de Sarsfield:
      • was a gentleman of Irish extraction.
      • was an associate of Turgot and the other men of letters in Paris.
      • added to almost universal knowledge a special predilection for economics.
      • wrote many essays on economic questions, though he never published any of them.
      • was the perfection of an agreeable companion. (Smith)
  • John Adams was the second President of the United States.
    • When he was an envoy for the United States in Paris, he was very intimate with Sarsfield.
    • Adams says that Sarsfield was the happiest man he knew, for he led the life of a peripatetic philosopher.
      • “Observation and reflection are all his business.
      • His dinner and his friend all his pleasure.
      • If a man were born for himself alone, I would take him for a model.”[201]
      • He was “the greatest rider of hobby-horses” in all President Adams’s acquaintance.
      • Some of his hobbies were for the most serious studies.
      • He published a work in metaphysics.
      • He wrote essays:
        • against serfdom and slavery, and
        • on other subjects found in[Pg 241] MS. among President Adams’s papers.
      • Yet he was a problem—and not a very soluble one—to the worthy President.
      • For he laid a weight on the merest trifles of ceremony or etiquette which seemed difficult to reconcile with his devotion to profound and learned studies.
      • He visited Adams at Washington during his presidency.
      • He used constantly to lecture the President on his little omissions.
      • After any entertainment Sarsfield would say , “that I should have placed the Ambassador of France at my right hand and the Minister of Spain at my left, and have arranged the other principal personages; and
      • when I rose from the table I should have said, Messieurs, voudrez vous, etc., or Monsieur or Duc voudrez vous, etc.
      • How can these trifling contemplations of a master of the ceremonies be reconciled with the vast knowledge of arts, sciences, history, government, etc., possessed by this nobleman?”[202] (Adams)
    • Sarsfield kept a journal about all the people he met with, from which Adams makes some interesting quotations, and which, if extant, might be expected to add to our information regarding Smith.
    • Below is Smith’s letter:—


Kirkaldy, June 7, 1767.

My Dearest Friend

This is to recommend to you the Count de Sarsfield.

  • He is my best and most agreeable friend in France.
  • You can introduce him to all the friends of your absent friend, to Oswald and to Elliot in particular.
  • I am so anxious that his stay in London should be rendered agreeable to him.
  • You know that he is a plain, worthy, honourable man.
  • This letter is for him.
  • You can send it to him yourself if the weighty affairs of State allow.
  • You may send the letter to Dr. Morton[203] by the Penny Post.

[Pg 242]

  • My Business here is study.
  • I have been very deeply engaged in it for about a month.
  • My amusements are long solitary walks by the seaside.
  • You may judge how I spend my time.
  • However, I feel extremely happy, comfortable, and contented.
    • I never was perhaps more so in all my life.


  • You will give me great comfort:
    • by writing to me now and then, and
    • by letting me know what is passing among my friends at London.
  • Remember me to them all, particularly:
    • to Mr. Adams’s family and
    • to Mrs. Montagu.[204]


  • What has become of Rousseau?
  • Has he gone abroad because he cannot contrive to get himself sufficiently persecuted in Great Britain?


  • What is the meaning of the bargain that your ministry has made with the India Company?
  • I see that they have not prolonged their charter, which is a good thing.[205]


  • The rest of the sheet is torn.
  • Hume replies on the 13th that Sarsfield was:
    • a very good friend of his own,
    • always a great pleasure in meeting, as he was a man of merit.
  • But Hume did not introduce Sarsfield:
    • to Sir Gilbert Elliot, because “this gentleman’s reserve and indolence would make him neglect the acquaintance”;
    • nor to Oswald, because Hume’s intimacy with Oswald, which lasted more than 25 years, was broken forever.
  • He describes his quarrel with Oswald’s brother the bishop and concludes:
    • “If I were sure, dear Smith, that you and I should not some day quarrel in some such manner, I should tell you that I am yours affectionately and sincerely.”[206]
  • Count de Sarsfield seems to have gone on to Scotland to visit Smith.
    • For on July 14, Hume writes Smith, enclosing a packet for the Count.


  • Smith did not reply to either of these letters until September 13, when he writes from Dalkeith House, [Pg 243]where he has gone for the homecoming of the Duke and Duchess of Buccleugh.
    • “He is a brute and a beast,” says Smith about the bishop.
    • He goes on to bespeak Hume’s favour for a young cousin of his who happened to be living in the same house with Hume in London, Captain David Skene, afterwards of Pitlour, who was in 1787 made inspector of military roads in Scotland.


  • Please send the enclosed letter to the Count de Sarsfield.
    • I am sorry for having delayed to write both of you so long.
  • David Skeene is a very amiable, modest, brave, worthy young gentleman who lives in the same house with you.
    • He and I are sisters’ sons.
    • But my regard for him is much more founded on his personal qualities than on our family relations.
  • He recently acted very gallantly in America.
    • I only knew about this within these few days.
  • Please be of any service to him.
  • The Duke and Dutchess of Buccleugh have been here now for almost a fortnight.
    • They begin to open their house on next Monday.
    • They will both be very agreeable to the People of this country.
  • The Dutchess is the most agreeable woman that I have ever seen.
    • I am sorry that you are not here, because I am sure you would be perfectly in love with her.
  • I shall probably be here some weeks.
    • But I wish that both you and the Count de Sarsfield would direct for me as usual at Kirkaldy.
  • I want to know Rousseau’s true history before and since he left England.
    • I shall keep it a secret.

I ever am, dear sir, most faithfully yours,

Adam Smith.[207]

  • The Duke of Buccleugh had never been at Dalkeith since his infancy. (Dr. Carlyle) [Pg 244]
    • Because his stepfather, Charles Townshend, was afraid he might grow up too Scotch in accent and feeling.
  • His home-coming with his young and beautiful bride, excited the liveliest interest and expectation on:
    • the Buccleugh estates and
    • over the whole lowlands of Scotland, from the Forth to the Solway.
  • The original day for the celebration was the Duke’s birthday, September 13, the very day Smith wrote Hume.
    • But the event had to be postponed because of Townshend’s sudden death from an attack of putrid fever which he got between the Duke’s arrival at Dalkeith and his birthday.
    • It came off, however, two or three weeks later.
  • An entertainment was given to about 50 ladies and gentlemen of the neighbourhood;
    • Dr. Carlyle was present and wrote an ode for the occasion.
    • He says that:
      • the fare was sumptuous,
      • but the company was formal and dull.
        • Because the guests were all strangers to their host and hostess except Adam Smith.
        • Adam Smith was ill qualified to promote the jollity of a birthday. (Carlyle)
        • “Had it not been for Alexander Macmillan, W.S., and myself, the meeting:
          • would have been very dull, and
          • might have been dissolved without even drinking the health of the day..
        • Smith remained with the Duke and Duchess for two months.
        • He then returned to Kirkcaldy to his mother and his studies.
        • I have often thought since that if they had brought down a man of more address than he was, how much sooner their first appearance might have been.”[208]


  • Smith was thus blamed for not being able to break the ice on this first meeting of his pupil with his Scotch neighbours.
    • But it soon melted away naturally under the warmth of the Duke’s own kindness.
  • The Duke almost settled among them.
    • For on Townshend’s death he gave up the idea of going into politics as an active career.
      • Townshend had set [Pg 245]his heart on it.
      • It was why he trained the young Duke under Smith, a political philosopher.
    • He lived largely on his Scotch estates.
    • He became:
      • a father to his numerous tenantry, and
      • a powerful and enlightened promoter of all sound agricultural improvement.
  • Dr. Carlyle says the family were always kind to their tenants.
    • But Duke Henry “surpassed them all, as much in justice and humanity as he did in superiority of understanding and good sense.”
  • Without claiming for Smith’s teaching what must in any case have been largely the result of a fine natural character, no young man could live for three years in daily intimacy with Adam Smith without being powerfully influenced by that deep love of justice and humanity.
    • It animated Smith beyond his fellows.
    • It ran as warmly through his conversation in private life as we see it still runs through his published writings.
  • Smith was always:
    • vigorous and weighty in his denunciation of wrong, and
    • so impatient of the indifference or palliation towards it, that he could not feel at ease in the presence of the palliator.
      • He once said of a palliator who had just left the company: “We can breathe more freely now, that man has no indignation in him.”[209]


  • Smith remained the Duke’s mentor all his life.
    • He was always a most honoured guest at “Dalkeith, which all the virtues love,” .
    • Smith always spoke with much satisfaction and gratitude of his relations with the family of Buccleugh. (Dugald Stewart)
  • Several of the traditional anecdotes of Smith’s absence of mind are localised at Dalkeith House.
    • For example, Lord Brougham preserved a story of Smith breaking out at dinner strongly condemning a leading statesman’s public conduct.
      • He then suddenly stopping short on perceiving that statesman’s [Pg 246]nearest relation on the opposite side of the table, and presently losing self-recollection again and muttering to himself, “Deil care, deil care, it’s all true.”
      • It shows that:
        • Smith habitually spoke his mind with considerable plainness, and
        • he shrank at the same time from personal discourtesy.
  • There is the less pointed story told by Archdeacon Sinclair when Smith was dining at Dalkeith, and two sons of Lord Dorchester were of the company.
    • The conversation all turned on Lord Dorchester’s estates and Lord Dorchester’s affairs.
    • Smith interposed and said, “Pray, who is Lord Dorchester? I have never heard so much of him before.”
      • It shows his continued absence of mind.


  • From Dalkeith Smith returns to Kirkcaldy and his work.
  • We find him in 1768 in correspondence with the Duke’s law-agent, Mr. A. Campbell, W.S., and with Sir James Johnstone of Westerhall.
    • It was about some investigation, of no public importance, into the genealogy of the Scotts.
    • He first got Campbell to search the charter-room of Dalkeith for ancient papers on the Scotts of Thirlestane.
    • He then wanted to know Sir James Johnstone’s explanation of Scott of Davington’s claim as heir of Rennaldburn on the Duke of Buccleugh.[210]
      • It shows Smith taking an interest in the Duke’s business affairs.
  • We also find him in correspondence with Lord Hailes on historical points of some consequence to the economic inquiries he was now busy on.
    • Lord Hailes was one of the precursors of sound historical investigation in this country.
    • Smith was long intimate with him [Pg 247].
    • He afterwards paid the curious compliment of translating his letter to Strahan on Hume’s death into Latin.


  • Only two letters have been preserved of Smith’s correspondence with Hailes:—


Kirkaldy, March 5, 1769.

My lord

  • Please send me the papers you mentioned on the prices of provisions in former times.
    • I shall send my own servant sometime this week to receive them at your house at Edinburgh.
  • I have not been able to get the papers in the cause of Lord Galloway and Lord Morton.
    • Please also send them to me if you have them.
    • I shall return both as soon as possible.
  • I shall transcribe the manuscript papers if you want.


  • Since I wrote you the last time, I have read the Acts of James I very carefully.
    • I compared them with your remarks.
    • I have had much pleasure and instruction from your remarks.
    • Your remarks are much more useful to me than mine will be to you.
  • I have read law entirely in order to form some general notion of the great outlines of the plan according to which justice has been administered in different ages and nations.
    • I have entered very little into the details.
    • I see you have very much mastered them.
  • Your Lordship’s particular facts will be very useful to correct my general views.
    • But I fear that my general views will always be too vague and superficial to be of much use to you.


  • I have nothing to add to what you have observed on the Acts of James I.
    • They are framed in general in a much ruder and more inaccurate manner than the English statutes or French ordinances of the same period.
    • Scotland seems to have been in greater disorder than France or England had been from the time of the Danish and Norwegian incursions.
  • The 5, 24, 56, and 85 statutes seem to attempt a remedy to one and the same abuse.
    • Traveling, from the disorders of the country, must have been extremely dangerous, [Pg 248]and consequently very rare.
    • Few people therefore would propose to live by entertaining travelers.
    • Consequently, there would be few or no inns.
    • Travellers would be obliged to have recourse to the hospitality of private families in the same manner as in all other barbarous countries.
    • Being in this situation real objects of compassion, private families would think themselves obliged to receive them even though this hospitality was extremely oppressive.
  • Homer says:
    • that strangers are sacred persons, and under the protection of Jupiter,
    • but no wise man would ever choose to send for a stranger unless he was a bard or a soothsayer.
  • The danger of traveling alone or with few attendants made all men of consequence bring many retainers with them.
    • It made this hospitality still more oppressive.
  • Hence the orders to build hostellaries in 24 and 85.
    • Many people chose to:
      • follow the old fashion and
      • live at the expense of other people than at their own.
    • Hence the complaint of the keepers of the hostellaries and the order thereupon in Act 85.


  • I end this long letter with my concern and indignation at what has lately passed at London and Edinburgh.
    • I have often thought that the United Kingdom’s Supreme Court very much resembled a jury.
    • The law lords generally:
      • sum up the evidence and
      • explain the law to the other peers.
        • The peers generally follow their opinion implicitly.
    • Two law lords on this occasion instructed them.
      • One has always run after the mob’s applause.
      • The other, by far the most intelligent, has always shown the greatest dread of popular odium.
        • However, he has not been able to avoid it.
        • His inclinations also have always been suspected to favour one of the parties.
        • On this occasion, I suspect that he has followed his fears and inclinations than his judgment.
      • I can say more about this, but I would rather have the solid reputation of your most respectable president, though exposed to the insults of a brutal mob, than all the vain and flimsy applause that has ever yet been bestowed on either or both the other two.—

I have the honour to be, with the highest esteem and regard, my Lord, your Lordship’s most obliged and obedient servant,

Adam Smith.[211]

[Pg 249]

  • A week later, Smith wrote Lord Hailes another letter.
    • It gave the beginning of his speculations on the price of silver. (Lord Brougham)
    • But the letter seems now lost.
    • Lord Brougham quotes from it only the following sentences on the Douglas cause.
  • “There is little joy if the rejoicings in the public papers arising from the Douglas cause were the same as those here.
    • It would be the same rejoicing as if four schoolboys had set up three candles for lighting.”[212]


  • The first of these letters was written almost immediately after Smith heard of the House of Lords’ decision in the famous Douglas case.
  • The news of the decision only reached Edinburgh on March 2.
    • The whole city was so enthusiastic about it.
    • Smith walking by the shore at Kirkcaldy would have seen the bonfires blazing on Salisbury Crags.
    • The Lord President of the Court of Session was opposed to the Douglas claim.
      • Smith heard that he was attacked by the mob.
      • The President was insulted the next morning in the street on his way to Court.
    • No civil lawsuit ever excited so much popular interest or feeling.
  • Mr. Douglas was heir to the estates of the late Duke of Douglas.
    • The Duke’s sister was Lady Jane.
    • She secretly married her husband, Sir John Stewart of Grandtully, abroad when she was already 50 years old.
  • The question was whether Mr. Douglas was really:
    • the son of Lady Jane or
    • an impostor, the son of a Frenchwoman, whom Lady Jane had brought up as her own son to inherit those estates.
  • Everybody in Scotland was either a Douglas or a Hamilton, [Pg 250].
    • The case’s sentimental elements gave the Douglas side strong popular sympathy.
    • Smith strongly sided with the unpopular and losing Hamilton side.
    • Lord Hailes was one of the judges.
      • He voted with the Lord President against Mr. Douglas.
      • The House of Lords now reversed that decision.
    • Lord Camden and Lord Mansfield were great English judges
      • Smith very rashly impeached their impartiality
      • This was indefensible. (Broughman)
  • David Hume was a Tory and an Undersecretary of State.
    • But he also denounced Lord Camden and Lord Mansfield and his own peers.
    • “To one who understands the case as I do, the pleading of the two law lords appears most scandalous.
    • Such curious misrepresentation, such impudent assertions, such groundless imputations, never came from that place.
    • But they were good enough for the audience, who are a little better than their brothers the Wilkites of the streets.” (Hume writing to Dr. Blair)
  • Hume lost his place with a change of ministry.
    • He returned to Edinburgh for good in August 1769, and wrote Smith inviting him over:—


James’s Court, August 20, 1769.

Dear Smith

  • I am glad to have seen you and Kirkaldy.
    • But I also wish to be within speaking terms of you, I wish we could concert measures for that purpose.
  • I am miserably sick at sea.
    • I regard with horror and a kind of hydrophobia the great gulf that lies between us.
  • I am also tired of traveling as much as you ought naturally to be of staying at home.
  • I therefore propose to you to come hither and pass some days with me in this solitude.
  • I want to know what you have been doing, and purpose to exact a rigorous [Pg 251]account of the method in which you have employed yourself during your retreat.
  • I am positive you are in the wrong in many of your speculations, especially when you have the misfortune to differ from me.
  • All these are reasons for our meeting, and I wish you would make me some reasonable proposal for that purpose.
  • There is no habitation on the island of Inchkeith, otherwise I should challenge you to meet me on that spot, and neither of us ever to leave the place till we were fully agreed on all points of controversy.
  • I expect General Conway here to-morrow, whom I shall attend to Roseneath, and I shall remain there a few days.
  • On my return I expect to find a letter from you containing a bold acceptance of this defiance.

I am, dear Smith, yours sincerely.[213]


  • Smith seems to have made such progress with his work in the two years of his retreat at Kirkcaldy.
    • In the beginning of 1770, there was some word of his going up with it to London for publication.
  • On February 6, Hume again writes him:
    • “What is the meaning of this, dear Smith, which we hear, that you are not to be here above a day or two on your passage to London?
    • How can you publish a book full of reason, sense, and learning to those wicked abandoned madmen?”[214]


  • He had probably completed his first draft of the work.
    • But he kept amplifying and altering parts of it for six years more.
  • He did not go to London in 1770.
    • But he came to Edinburgh and received the freedom of the city in June.
  • He seems to have received this honour for the merits of the Duke of Buccleugh rather than for his own.
    • For the entry in the minutes of the Council June 6, 1770 runs:


  • “Appoint the Dean of Guild and his Council to admit and receive their Graces the Duke of Buccleugh and the Duke of Montagu in the most ample form, for good services done by them and their noble ancestors to the kingdome.
  • And also Adam Smith, LL.D., and [Pg 252]the Reverend Mr. John Hallam to be Burgesses and Gild Brethren of this city in the most ample form.

(Signed) James Stuart, Provost.”

  • The Duke of Montagu was the Duke of Buccleugh’s father-in-law/
  • The Rev. Mr. John Hallam was afterwards Dean of Windsor.
    • He was the father of Henry Hallam, the historian.
    • He was the Duke’s tutor at Eton, as Adam Smith was his tutor abroad.
  • The freedom was therefore given to the Duke of Buccleugh and party.
  • Smith’s burgess-ticket is one of the few relics of him still extant.
    • It is possessed by Professor Cunningham of Belfast.


  • Smith promised Hume a visit about Christmas 1771.
  • But the visit was postponed because of the illness of Hume’s sister.
  • On January 28, he received the following letter, replying to a request for the address of the Comtesse de Boufflers in Paris:—


Edinburgh, January 28, 1772.

Dear Smith

  • I should certainly before this time have challenged the Performance of your Promise of being with me about Christmas had it not been for the misfortunes of my family.
  • Last month my sister fell dangerously ill of a fever.
    • The fever is now gone.
    • But she is still so weak and low.
    • She recovers so slowly that I was afraid it would be a melancholy house to invite you to.
    • However, I expect that she will get better in time and by then I shall look for your company.
  • I shall not take any excuse from your own state of health, which I suppose only a subterfuge invented by indolence and love of solitude.
  • My dear Smith, if you continue to hearken to complaints of this nature, you will cut yourself out entirely from human society, to the great loss of both parties.


  • The Lady’s Direction is Me la Comtesse de B., Douanière au Temple.
  • She has a daughter-in-law, which makes it requisite to distinguish her.—

Yours sincerely,

David Hume.

P.S.—I have not yet read Orlando Inamorato.

  • I am now reading the Italian historians.
  • I am confirmed in my former opinion that that language has not produced one author who [Pg 253]knew how to write elegant correct prose.
    • Though it contains several excellent poets.
  • You say nothing to me of your own work.[215]


  • Smith seems to have perhaps sent him Orlando Inamorato, or have been writing or talking about it.
    • The Italian poets were favourite reading of his.
  • This letter indicates that Smith’s labours and solitude were beginning to impact his health.
    • Poor health had now become one of the chief causes of his delay in finishing his work.
    • It continued to go from bad to worse.
  • Smith’s book would have been ready for the press by the first of that winter if it were not for the interruptions caused by:
    • bad health:
      • from “the lack of amusement and
      • from thinking too much on one thing”, with
    • other interruptions by his endeavours to extricate some of his personal friends from their difficulties in the commercial crisis of that time. (Smith writing to his friend Pulteney in September)


Kirkaldy, September 5, 1772.

My dear Pulteney

  • I have received your most friendly letter.
    • I have delayed too long to answer it.
  • I have had no concern in the Public calamities.
    • But some of my closest friends have been deeply concerned in them.
    • My attention has been much occupied about the best way of extricating them.


  • In the Book which I am now preparing for the press, I have treated fully and distinctly of every part of the subject which you have recommended to me.
    • I intended to send you some extracts from it.
  • But after looking them over, I find that they are too much interwoven with other parts of the work to be easily separated from it.
  • I have the same opinion of Sir James Stewart’s book that you have.
    • Without once mentioning it, [Pg 254]any false principle in it will meet with a clear and distinct confutation in mine.[216]


  • Thank you very much for mentioning me to the East India Directors as a person who would be of use to them.
    • You have acted in your old way of doing your friends a good office behind their backs, pretty much as other people do them a bad one.
    • I will readily undertake any kind of labour from you.
  • Mr. Stewart and Mr. Ferguson hinted to me on your notice of the proper remedy for the disorders of the coin in Bengal.
    • I believe our opinions on that subject are perfectly the same.


  • My book would have been ready for the press by the beginning of this winter.
  • I must delay its publication for a few months:
    • because of interruptions occasioned partly by bad health:
      • from lack of amusement and
      • from thinking too much on one thing.
    • partly because of the avocations above-mentioned,
  • My dearest Pulteney, I ever am most faithfully and affectionately your obliged servant,

Adam Smith.

To William Pulteney, Esq., Member of Parliament,
Bath House, London.[217]


  • Those public calamities were the bankruptcies of the severe commercial crisis of 1772, and
    • Most likely, the Buccleugh family were the friends he tried so much to extricate from it.
  • The crash was especially disastrous in Scotland.
    • Only 3 out of 30 private banks in Edinburgh survived it.
  • Douglas Heron and Company was a large joint-stock bank.
    • It started only three years before, for the public-spirited purpose of promoting improvements, particularly improvements of land.
    • It now seemed to shake all commercial Scotland with its fall.
    • The Duke of Buccleugh was one of its largest shareholders.
      • His [Pg 255]liability was unlimited.
      • It was impossible to foresee how much of its £800,000 of liabilities the Duke might eventually be called on to pay.
    • The suggestion that Smith was much consulted by the Duke and his advisers about this grave business is confirmed by his familiarity with the bank’s circumstances at the time of its failure in Chapter 2 of Book 2 of the Wealth of Nations.


  • The situation for which Pulteney had recommended him to the Court of Directors of the East India Company was a place as member of the Special Commission of Supervision which they then contemplated establishing.
  • In 1772, the East India Company was in extremities.
    • In July, they were nearly 1.5 million sterling behind for their next quarter’s payments.
  • They proposed to send a commission to India of three independent and competent men,
    • They would have full authority to:
      • institute a complete examination into every detail of the administration, and
      • exercise a certain supervision and control of the whole.
  • Burke had already been offered one of the seats on this commission.
    • But he had refused it on finding that Lord Rockingham was unwilling to part with him.
  • Adam Ferguson and Andrew Stuart, M.P. were Scotch friends of Smith.
    • At the time this letter was written, they:
      • were actually candidates for the places, and
      • had apparently been recently seeing Pulteney in London on the subject.
  • Pulteney had great influence at the India House.
  • He had probably mentioned the names of Smith, Ferguson, and Stuart to the Court of Directors at the same time.
  • That must have been at least two months before Smith wrote this letter,
  • For in July, Ferguson was  getting influence brought to bear on the Edinburgh Town Council to secure their permission to retain his professorship in the event of his going to India.[218]
  • Ferguson pushed his candidature vigorously.
    • He [Pg 256]went to London repeatedly about it between July and November.
    • But Smith, although he would have accepted the post if he received the offer of it, does not seem to have taken any steps to procure it.
    • He did not even answer Pulteney’s letter until September.
  • Stuart’s candidature was defeated Horace Walpole says, by Lord Mansfield, but eventually no appointment was made
  • because Parliament intervened, and forbade any such commission to be sent out at all.


  • Professor Rogers sent the letter to the Academy for publication.
    • In it, he  observes that the delay in the publication of the Wealth of Nations was due to the negotiations which Mr. Pulteney was making to get Smith appointed to this place.
    • Mr. Rogers says:
      • “Had he succeeded, it is probable that the Wealth of Nations would never have seen the light.
      • for every one knows that in the first and second books of that work the East India Company is criticised with the greatest severity….
      • Due to Pulteney’s negotiations, it lay unrevised and unaltered during four years in Smith’s desk.”


  • This is a strange remark to fall from an editor of the Wealth of Nations.
    • For the evidences of continuous revision and alteration during those four years are very numerous in the text of the work itself.
  • He made many changes or additions in 1773.
    • For example, the remarks on the price of hides,[219] in the chapter on Rent, were written in February 1773.
    • The remarks on the decline of sugar-refining in colonies taken from the French, in the chapter on the Colonies,[220] were written in October.
    • The passage on American wages in the chapter on Wages, was inserted some time in 1773.
  • The extensive additions in the chapters on the Revenue was occasioned by reading the Mémoires concernant les Droits.
    • It must have been written after 1774.
    • Because Smith probably obtained that [Pg 257]book after Turgot became Minister in mid-1774.
    • In 1775, he added his remarks:
      • on the effects of recent events on the trade with North America,[221] in the chapter on Colonies, and
      • on the Irish revenue in the chapter on Public Debts.[222]
    • The chapter on the Regulated Companies was apparently not written until 1782.
      • The East India Company receives most systematic attention in it.
      • It did not appear in the book’s first edition.[223]


  • The book therefore did not lie “unrevised and unaltered” in Smith’s desk from 1772 to 1776.
    • On the contrary, the chief cause of the four years’ delay was its revision and alteration during that whole term.
  • The particular Indian appointment for which Pulteney had recommended him could have nothing to do with the delay, inasmuch as the proposed office was suppressed within two months after this letter was written;
    • Even if he expected any other sort from the East India Company, there is no reason why he should have withheld his work from publication.
  • The more elaborate criticism of that Company in the chapter on Public Works did not appear in the book’s original edition at all.
  • The only remarks on Indian administration which appeared in the original edition were merely incidental in character.
    • But they are very strong and decided.
    • They might easily have been omitted if Smith wanted to please the Company, without any injury to the general argument they were connected with.


  • On the other hand, there is a lot of evidence that Smith was:
    • busy for most of three years after this date, and
    • mainly in London, altering, improving, and adding to the book’s manuscript.
  • New lines of investigation would suggest themselves.
    • New theories to be thought out.
    • The task would grow day by day by a very simple but [Pg 258]unforeseen process of natural accretion.
  • Hume thought it was near completion in 1769.
    • But towards the end of 1772, two months after Smith’s answer to Pulteney, he gives it most of another year for being finished.
    • From his new quarters in St. Andrew Square, he writes asking Smith to break off his studies for a few weeks’ relaxation with him in Edinburgh about Christmas, and then to return and finish his work before the following autumn.


St. Andrew’s Square, November 23, 1772.

Dear Smith

  • I should agree to your Reasoning if I could trust your Resolution.
  • Come hither for some weeks about Christmas;
  • dissipate yourself a little; return to Kirkaldy;
  • finish your work before autumn;
  • go to London, print it, return and settle in this town, which suits your studious, independent turn even better than London.
  • Execute this plan faithfully, and I forgive you….
  • Ferguson has returned fat and fair and in good humour, despite his disappointment,[224] which I am glad of.
  • He comes over next week to a house in this neighbourhood.
  • Pray come over this winter and join us.—

I am, my dear Smith, ever yours,

David Hume.[225]

  • While Pulteney was suggesting Smith’s name for employment under the East India Company, Baron Mure was trying to secure his services as tutor to the Duke of Hamilton.
    • Lord Stanhope possibly offered him the position of tutor to his lordship’s ward, the young Earl of Chesterfield.
  • Baron Mure was one of the guardians of the young Duke of Hamilton (the son of the beautiful Miss Gunning),
    • He had the chief responsibility in raising and carrying on the great Douglas cause.
    • He was a man of great sagacity and weight.
      • We see this in the communication with Hume and Oswald on economic subjects.
    • He had also been long personally intimate with Smith.
    • He seems to have been anxious in 1772 to send Smith abroad with the Duke of Hamilton, as he [Pg 259]had already been sent abroad with the Duke of Buccleugh.
  • Smith would appear to have been sounded on the subject, and even to have given what was considered a favourable reply.
    • For Andrew Stuart, a fellow-guardian of the Duke along with Mure, writes the latter acknowledging receipt of his letter “intimating”—these are the words—”the practicability of having Mr. Smith,” but the Duke’s mother (then Duchess of Argyle) and the Duke himself preferred Dr. John Moore, the author of Zelucco, who was the family medical attendant, and was indeed chosen because he could act in that capacity to his very delicate young charge, though he was strictly required to drop the “doctor,”
    • He was severely censured by the Duchess for assisting at a surgical operation in Geneva, inasmuch as if it got known that he was a medical man it would be a bar to their reception in the best society.[226]
  • Accordingly, Mure was told that it was “the united opinion of all concerned that matters go no further with Mr. Smith.”


  • Baron Mure was so wise and practical a head.
    • His thinking of Smith for this post is a proof:
      • that the Buccleugh tutorship had been a success, and
      • that the other men who knew Smith well, did not consider him as so unfit as a traveling tutor as some of his friends thought him.
  • During this period of severe study in Kirkcaldy his fits of absence might be expected to recur occasionally.
    • Dr. Charles Rogers relates an anecdote of one of them.
    • But Dr. Rogers omits mentioning any authority for it.
    • Stories of that kind must be accepted with scruples.
    • Because they are so apt to agglomerate round any person noted for the failing they indicate.
  • According to Dr. Rogers, Smith, during his residence in Kirkcaldy, went out one Sunday morning in his dressing-gown to walk in the garden.
    • But once in the [Pg 260]garden, he went on to the path leading to the turnpike road, and then to the road itself.
    • He continued on it in a condition of reverie until he reached Dunfermline, 15 miles away, just as the bells were sounding and the people were proceeding to church.
    • The strange sound of the bells was the first thing that roused Smith from the meditation he was immersed in.[227]
  • The story is very open to criticism.
    • But if correct, it points to:
      • sleepless nights and
      • an incapacity to get a subject out of the head, due to over-application.
  • According to Robert Chambers in his Picture of Scotland, Smith’s persistence with his book left a mark on the wall of his study.
    • It remained there until the room was repainted shortly before Chambers wrote of it in 1827.
  • Chambers says that Smith habitually:
    • composed standing, and
    • dictated to an amanuensis.
  • He usually stood with his back to the fire.
    • Unconsciously, in the process of thought he used to make his head vibrate, or rub sidewise against the wall above the chimney-piece.
  • His head was dressed with pomatum, in the ordinary style of that period.
    • It made a mark on the wall.
  • Smith dictated the Wealth of Nations but did not dictate the Theory of Moral Sentiments. (M’Culloch)
    • I cannot say whether he had any external ground for this assertion.
    • If he dictated his lectures and his Wealth of Nations in Edinburgh to an amanuensis, he would have done the same with his Theory.
  • But M’Culloch sees internal evidences of this difference of manual method in the different style of those works.
    • Moore met M’Culloch one evening at Longman’s.
    • They discussed writers who dictated as they composed.
  • One of the party said the habit of dictating always bred a diffuse style.
    • M’Culloch supported this view by the example [Pg 261]of Adam Smith.
    • His Wealth of Nations was very diffuse because it had been dictated.
    • While his Theory, which was not dictated, was admirable in style. (M’Culloch)
  • But in reality there is probably more diffuse writing in the Theory than in the Wealth of Nations, which is for the most part packed tightly enough.
  • Archibald Alison the elder was the author of the Essay on Taste and was another Scotch critic.

    • He even surpasses M’Culloch in his keenness in detecting the effects of this dictating habit.
    • He says that Smith used to walk up and down the room while he dictated.
    • As a  consequence, his sentences are nearly all the same length.
    • Each contained as much as the amanuensis could write down while the author took a single turn.[228]
  • This is excessive acuteness.
    • Smith’s sentences are not all of one length, or all of the same construction.
    • It need only be added that the habit of dictating would in his case arise naturally from his slow and laboured penmanship.


  • The Wealth of Nations was composed in a house in the main street of the town.
    • But its garden ran down to the beach.
    • It was only pulled down in 1844, without anybody then and there that they were destroying their most interesting association.
      • It has been a cause of much regret since.
    • However, an engraving of it exists.



[201] Adams’s Works, ix. 589.

[202] Adams’s Works, iii. 276.

[203] Secretary of the Royal Society. The letter was probably in acknowledgment of the intimation of his election as Fellow.

[204] Mr. Adams is Adam the architect.

  • Mrs. Montagu is the well-known Mrs. Elizabeth Montagu of Portman Square.
  • Her hospitable house was a rival to any of the most brilliant salons of Paris.

[205]Hume MSS., R.S.E. Library.

[206] Burton’s Life of Hume, ii. 390.

[207]Hume MSS., R.S.E. Library.

[208] Carlyle’s Autobiography, p. 489.

[209] Sinclair’s Life of Sir John Sinclair, i. 37.

[210] Fraser’s Scotts of Buccleuch, I. lxxxviii., II. 406.

[211] Brougham’s Men of Letters, ii. 219.

[212] Brougham’s Men of Letters, ii. 219.

[213] Burton’s Life of Hume, ii. 429.

[214]Ibid., ii. 433.

[215]Hume MSS., R.S.E. Library. Partially published by Burton.

[216] Sir James Steuart’s Inquiry into the Principles of Political Economy was published in 1767.

[217] Published by Professor Thorold Rogers in the Academy of 28th February 1885.

[218]Caldwell Papers, iii. 207.

[219]Wealth of Nations, Book I. chap. xi.

[220]Ibid., Book IV. chap. vii.

[221]Wealth of Nations, Book IV. chap. vii.

[222]Ibid., Book V. chap. iii.

[223]Ibid., Book V. chap. i.

[224] From the suppression of the Indian supervisorship; see p. 255.

[225]Hume MSS., R.S.E. Library.

[226]Caldwell Papers, i. 192.

[227] Rogers’ Social Life of Scotland, iii. 181.

[228] Sinclair’s Old Times and Distant Places, p. 9.

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