Chap 4: Lecturer at Edinburgh

Chapter 4: Lecturer at Edinburgh

  • In returning to Scotland, Smith probably wanted a Scotch university chair eventually.
    • But he thought in the meantime to get a job as a travelling tutor to the Duke of Buccleugh, who was a ranking and wealthy young man.
      • It was then a much-desired and a highly-paid job.
      • He afterwards gave up his chair for that job.
    • While looking for that job, he stayed at home with his mother in Kirkcaldy.
      • He had to remain there without any regular employment for two full years, from the autumns of 1746 to 1748.
  • The appointment never came.
    • Because we are told from his absent manner and bad address, that he seemed to the ordinary parent as a most unsuitable person to be entrusted with the care of spirited and perhaps thoughtless young gentlemen.
    • But his visits to Edinburgh in looking for this work bore fruit by giving him:
      • quite as good a start in life, and
      • a much shorter cut to the professorial position he was best fitted for.
  • During the winter of 1748-49, he made a most successful beginning as a public lecturer by delivering a course on English literature.
    • It was then a comparatively untried subject.
    • At the same time, he gave a first contribution to English literature by collecting and editing the poems of William Hamilton of Bangour.
  • For both these [Pg 31]undertakings he was indebted to the advice and good offices of Lord Kames.
    • Lord Kames was then Mr. Henry Home.
    • James Oswald of Dunnikier was Smith’s friend and neighbour and was among Kames’s most intimate friends.
      • Oswald introduced Smith to Kames who was one of the leaders of the Edinburgh bar.
    • Kames was now 52.
      • He had not yet written any of the works which raised him afterwards to eminence.
      • But he had long enjoyed in the literary society of the North something of that position which Voltaire laughs at him for trying to take towards the world in general.
      • He was a law on all questions of taste, from an epic poem to a garden plot.
      • He had little Latin and no Greek because:
        • he was never in college, and
        • the classical quotations in his Sketches were translated for him by A.F. Tytler.
      • Because of this deficiency, he had thrown himself with all the greater zeal into English literature when it became the rage in Scotland after the Union.
      • He was soon:
        • fighting with Bishop Butler in metaphysics, and
        • the accepted guide of the new Scotch poets in literary criticism.
    • Hamilton of Bangour confesses that he himself learned to criticise from Henry Home.[19]
  • Home’s place in the literature of Scotland corresponds with his place in its agriculture,
    • He was the first of the improvers.
    • Smith always held him in the deepest veneration.
    • When Smith was complimented as part of the group of great writers who reflected glory on Scotland, he said, “Yes, but we must all acknowledge Kames for our master.”[20]

[Pg 32]

  • When Home found Smith already as well versed in the English classics as himself, he suggested the delivery of this course of lectures on English literature and criticism.
    • The subject was fresh.
    • It was fashionable.
    • Stevenson was the Professor of Logic.
      • He had already lectured on it in English.
    • But nobody had yet given lectures on it open to the general public.
      • English literature so much engaged the public’s interest then.
  • The success of such a course seemed assured.
    • The event fully justified that prognostication.
  • The class was attended among others by:
    • Kames himself,
    • students for the bar, like Alexander Wedderburn,
    • afterwards
      • Lord Chancellor of England
      • William Johnstone,
        • He had a long influential part in Parliament as Sir William Pulteney
    • young ministers of the city like Dr. Blair, and
      • He subsequently gave a similar course himself;
    •  many others, both young and old.
  • It brought Smith a clear £100.
    • The customary fee then was a guinea.
      • In such a case, the audience would be more than 100.
    • It was probably held in the College,
      • Because Blair’s subsequent course was delivered there even before the establishment of any formal connection with the University by the creation of the professorship.

 

  • Smith’s lectures on English literature were burnt at his own request shortly before his death.
  • Blair heard them at the time.
    • He used a part of them afterwards in preparing his own lectures on rhetoric.
    • He speaks as if there was some hope at one time that Smith would publish them,
    • But if Smith ever intended to, he was too preoccupied with a greater work.
      • He was more interested in publishing that work.
  • It has been suggested that they are practically reproduced in the lectures of Blair.
    • Blair acknowledges having taken a few hints for his treatment of simplicity in style from [Pg 33] Smith’s lectures.
    • His words are: “On this head, of the general characters of style, particularly the plain and the simple,
    • The characters of those English authors who are classed under them, in this and the following lecture, several ideas have been taken from a manuscript treatise on rhetoric,
    • part of which was shown to me many years ago by the learned and ingenious author, Dr. Adam Smith;
    • and which it ils hoped will be given by him to the public.”[21]
  • Many of Smith’s friends now considered this acknowledgment far insufficient.
    • Hill was Blair’s biographer.
    • He says Smith joined in their complaint.
      • It is very unlikely that Smith ever joined in any such complaint,
      • For Henry Mackenzie told Samuel Rogers an anecdote which conveys an entirely contrary impression.
        • Mackenzie was speaking of Smith’s wealth of conversation,
        • He told how Smith often used to say to him:
          • “Sir, you have said enough to make a book,”
          • Smith then mentioned that Blair frequently introduced into his sermons some of Smith’s thoughts on jurisprudence.
          • Blair gathered them from his conversation.
          • Blair told the circumstance to Smith.
          • Smith replied “He is very welcome, there is enough left.”[22]
  • Blair intended to publish his own work on jurisprudence.
  • If Smith made Blair welcome to his thoughts on jurisprudence, Smith made him not less heartily welcome to his thoughts on literature and style.
    • Blair probably entertained no similar intention on it.
  • Besides, if we judge from the two chapters regarding which he owns his obligation to Smith, Blair does not seem to have borrowed anything but what was the commonest of property already.
    • He took only what his superficial mind had the power of taking,
    • and the pith of Smith’s thinking must have been left behind.
    • To borrow even a hat to any purpose, the two heads must be something of a size.

[Pg 34]

  • Therefore, Smith’s literary lectures would not be in the lectures of Blair.
  • But it would be quite possible still, if it were desired, to collect a not inadequate view of his literary opinions from incidental remarks in his writings or preserved by friends from recollections of his conversation.
  • In the preface to the Lyrical Ballads, Wordsworth calls him “the worst critic, David Hume excepted, that Scotland, a soil to which this sort of weed seems natural, has produced,”
  • His judgments will certainly not be confirmed by today’s taste.
  • He preferred the classical to the romantic school.
  • He thought with Voltaire:
    • that Shakespeare had written good scenes but not a good play,
    • that though he had more dramatic genius than Dryden, Dryden was the greater poet.
  • He thought little of Milton’s minor poems, and less of the old ballads collected by Percy.
    • Bbut he had great admiration for Pope, believed Gray, if he had only written a little more, would have been the greatest poet in the English language, and thought Racine’s Phædrus the finest tragedy extant in any language in the world.
    • His own great test of literary beauty was the principle he lays down in his Essay on the Imitative Arts, that the beauty is always in the proportion of the difficulty perceived to be overcome.

 

  • Smith seems at this early period of his life to have had dreams of some day becoming a poet.
  • His extensive familiarity with the poets always struck Dugald Stewart as very remarkable in a man so conspicuous for the weight of his more solid attainments.
  • Stewart says “In the English language, the variety of poetical passages which he referred to occasionally and was able to repeat correctly, appeared surprising even to those whose attention had never been attracted to more important acquisitions.”
  • The tradition of Smith’s early ambition to be a poet is only preserved in an allusion in Caleb Colton’s[Pg 35] “Hypocrisy,”
  • But it receives a certain support from a remark of Smith’s own in conversation with a young friend in his later years.
  • Colton’s allusion runs as follows:—

 

  • Unused am I the Muse’s path to tread,
  • And curs’d with Adam’s unpoetic head,
  • Who, though that pen he wielded in his hand Ordain’d the Wealth of Nations to command;
  • Yet when on Helicon he dar’d to draw, His draft return’d and unaccepted saw.
  • If thus like him we lay a rune in vain, Like him we’ll strive some humbler prize to gain.

 

  • Smith’s own confession is contained in a report of some conversations given in the Bee for 1791.
    • He was speaking about blank verse, to which he always had a dislike, as we know from an interesting incident mentioned by Boswell.
  • Boswell attended Smith’s lectures on English literature at Glasgow College in 1759.
    • He told Johnson four years after that Smith had pronounced a strong opinion in these lectures against blank verse and in favour of rhyme—always, no doubt, on the same principle that the greater the difficulty the greater the beauty.
  • This delighted Johnson.
    • He said, “Sir, I was once in company with Smith
    • We did not take to each other
    • but had I known that he loved rhyme as much as you tell me he does, I should have hugged him.”
  • Twenty years later, Smith was again expressing to the anonymous interviewer of the Bee his unabated contempt for all blank verse except Milton’s, and
    • he said that though he could never find a single rhyme in his life, he could make blank verse as fast as he could speak. “Blank verse,” he said; “they do well to call it blank, for blank it is.
    • I myself even, who never could find a single rhyme in my life, could make blank verse as fast as I could speak.”
  • The critic would thus appear here again to have been the poet who has failed, though in this case he had the sense to discover the failure without tempting the judgment of the public.

[Pg 36]

  • He had already begun to discover his true vocation.
    • Besides his lectures on English literature, which he delivered for three successive winters, he delivered at least one winter a course on economics.
    • This course was written in 1749 and delivered from 1750-51.
    • In it, Smith advocated the doctrines of commercial liberty on which he was nurtured by Hutcheson, and which he was afterwards to do so much to advance.
  • He states this fact himself in a paper read before a learned society in Glasgow in 1755.
    • This paper afterwards fell into the hands of Dugald Stewart.
    • Stewart extracts a passage or two from it, which I shall quote in a subsequent chapter.
    • They certainly contain a plain enough statement of the doctrine of natural liberty.
    • Smith says that most of the opinions in the paper were “treated of at length in some lectures which I have still by me, and which were written in the hand of a clerk who left six years ago” in 1749.
    • “all of them had been the subjects of lectures which I read at Edinburgh the winter before I left it.
    • I can adduce innumerable witnesses both from that place and from this who will ascertain them sufficiently to be mine.”[23]
  • These ideas of natural liberty in industrial affairs were actively at work in Smith’s mind and in the minds of others in his immediate circle in Scotland in those years 1749 and 1750.
  • David Hume and James Oswald were then corresponding on the subject.
    • It is doubtful whether Smith had seen much or anything of Hume personally then
      • (Hume had been abroad with General St. Clair part of it, and did not live in Edinburgh after his return)
    • Though it was in those and the two previous years that Smith was first brought into real intellectual contact with his friend and townsman, James Oswald.

 

  • Oswald was still a young [Pg 37]man, only eight years older than Smith.
    • He had already made his mark in Parliament where he:
      • sat for their native burgh, and
      • had been made a Commissioner of the Navy in 1745.
  • He had made his mark largely by his mastery of economic subjects
    • for which Hume said, after paying him a visit at Dunnikier for a week in 1744, that he had a “great genius,” and “would go far in that way if he persevered.”
  • He afterwards became:
    • commissioner of trade and plantations,
    • Lord of the Treasury, and
    • Vice-Treasurer of Ireland.
  • He would have certainly gone further but for his premature death in 1768 at the age of 52.
  • Lord Shelburne once strongly advised Lord Bute to make him Chancellor of the Exchequer.
  • Smith thought as highly of Oswald as Hume.
  • He used to “dilate,” says Oswald’s grandson, who heard him, “with a generous and enthusiastic pleasure on the qualifications and merits of Mr. Oswald, candidly avowing at the same time how much information he had received on many points from the enlarged views and profound knowledge of that accomplished statesman.”[24]
  • Dugald Stewart saw a paper written by Smith which described Oswald as a man:
    • of extensive knowledge of economic subjects and
    • with a special taste and capacity for discussing their more general and philosophical aspects.
  • That paper is the same document of 1755 I have just mentioned in which Smith was proving his early attachment to the doctrines of economic liberty
    • and would naturally treat of circumstances connected with the growth of his opinions.
  • Smith and Oswald must have been in communication on economic questions about that period
    • Oswald’s views then are contained in the correspondence to which reference has been made.

 

  • Early in 1750, David Hume sent Oswald the manuscript of his well-known essay on the Balance of Trade.
    • It was afterwards published in his Political Essays in 1752
    • asking [Pg 38]for his views and criticisms; and
    • Oswald replied on October 10 in a long letter, published in the Caldwell Papers,[25].
    • It shows him to have:
      • been already entirely above the prevailing mercantilist prejudices, and
      • very clear conceptions of economic operations.
  • He declares jealousies between nations of being drained of their produce and money to be quite irrational.
    • that could never happen as long as the people and industry remained.
  • He held that the prohibition against exporting commodities and money had always produced effects directly contrary to what was intended by it.
  • It had reduced cultivation at home instead of increasing it.
    • It really forced the more money out of the country the more produce it prevented from going.
  • Oswald’s letter seems to have been sent on by Hume, together with his own essay, to Baron Mure, who was also interested in such discussions.
  • The new light was thus breaking in on groups of inquirers in Scotland as well as elsewhere, and Smith was from his earliest days within its play.

 

  • Amid the more serious labours of these literary and economic lectures, it would be an agreeable relaxation to collect and edit the scattered poems, published and unpublished, of Hamilton of Bangour, the author of what Wordsworth calls the “exquisite ballad” of “The Braes o’ Yarrow,” beginning—

 

  • Busk ye, busk ye, my bonny, bonny bride,
  • Busk ye, busk ye, my winsome marrow,
  • Busk ye, busk ye, my bonny, bonny bride,
  • And think no more on the Braes o’ Yarrow.

 

  • This ballad had appeared in Allan Ramsay’s Tea-Table Miscellany so long ago as 1724.
  • It was followed by Hamilton’s most ambitious effort, the poem “Contemplation,” in 1739.
  • But the general public of Scotland only seem to have awakened to their merits after the poet espoused the Jacobite cause in 1745, and celebrated the [Pg 39]victory of Prestonpans by his “Ode to the Battle of Gladsmuir”—the name the Jacobites preferred to give the battle.
  • This ode had been set to music by M’Gibbon.
    • It became a great favourite in Jacobite households.
    • It created so much popular interest in the author’s other works that imperfect versions of some of his unpublished poems, and even of those which were already in print, began to appear.
    • The author was himself an outlaw, and could not intervene.
    • The ode which had lifted him into popularity had at the same time driven him into exile.
    • He was then living with a little group of young Scotch refugees at Rouen, and completely shattered in bodily health by his three months’ hiding among the Grampians.
  • Under those circumstances, his friends thought it advisable to forestall the pirated and imperfect collections of his poems which were in contemplation by publishing as complete and correct an edition of them as could possibly be done in the absence of the author.
  • And this edition was issued from the famous Foulis press in Glasgow in 1748.
  • In doing so they acted, as they avow in the preface, “not only without the author’s consent, but without his knowledge,” but it is absurd to call an edition published under those circumstances, as the new Dictionary of National Biography calls it, a “surreptitious edition.”
  • It was published by the poet’s closest personal friends as a protection for the poet’s reputation, and perhaps as a plea for his pardon.

 

  • The task of collecting and editing the poems was entrusted to Adam Smith.
    • The accurate and learned David Laing informs us of this.
  • Though Laing has not imparted his authority for the information, it receives a certain circumstantial corroboration from other quarters.
  • We find Smith in the enjoyment of a very rapid intimacy with Hamilton during the two brief years the poet resided in Scotland between receiving the royal pardon in 1750 and flying again in 1752 from a more [Pg 40]relentless enemy than kings—the fatal malady of consumption, from which he died two years later at Lyons.
  • Sir John Dalrymple, the historian, speaks in a letter to Robert Foulis, the printer, of “the many happy and flattering hours which he (Smith) had spent with Mr. Hamilton.”
  • We find again that when Hamilton’s friends propose to print a second edition of the poems, they come to Smith for assistance.
  • This edition was published in 1758.
  • It is dedicated to the memory of William Craufurd, merchant, Glasgow, a friend of the poet mentioned in the preface to the first edition as having supplied many of the previously unpublished pieces which it contained.
  • Craufurd appears to have been an uncle of Sir John Dalrymple,
    • Sir John asks Foulis to get Smith to write this dedication.
  • In December 1757, he says:
    • “Sir, I have changed my mind about the dedication of Mr. Hamilton’s poems.
    • I would have it stand ‘the friend of William Hamilton,’ but I assent to your opinion to have something more to express Mr. Craufurd’s character.
    • I know none so able to do this as my friend Mr. Smith.
    • I beg it, therefore, earnestly that he will write the inscription, and with all the elegance and all the feelingness which he above the rest of mankind is able to express.
    • This is a thing that touches me very nearly.
    • Therefore I beg a particular answer as to what he says to it.
    • The many happy and the many flattering hours which he has spent with Mr. Hamilton and Mr. Craufurd makes me think that he will account his usual indolence a crime upon this occasion.
    • I beg you will make my excuse for not writing him this night.
    • But then I consider writing to you upon this head to be wryting to him.”[26]
  • It is unlikely that Smith would resist an appeal like this, and the dedication bears some internal marks of his authorship.
    • It describes Mr. Craufurd as “the friend of Mr. Hamilton, who to that exact frugality, that downright probity and pliancy [Pg 41]of manners so suitable to his profession, joined a love of learning and of all the ingenious arts, an openness of hand and a generosity of heart that was far both from vanity and from weakness, and a magnanimity that would support, under the prospect of approaching and inevitable death, a most torturing pain of body with an unalterable cheerfulness of temper, and without once interrupting even to his last hour the most manly and the most vigorous activity of business.”
  • This William Craufurd is confounded by Lord Woodhouselee, and through him by others, with Robert Crauford, the author of “The Bush aboon Traquair,” “Tweedside,” and other poems, who was also an intimate friend of Hamilton of Bangour, but died in 1732.

 

  • Another link in the circumstantial evidence corroborating David Laing’s statement is the fact that Smith was certainly at the moment in communication with Hamilton’s personal friends, at whose instance the volume of poems was published.
  • Kames was then interesting himself so actively in Smith’s advancement.
    • He was the closest surviving friend of Hamilton.
  • They had been constant companions in youth, leading spirits of that new school of dandies called “the beaux”—young men at once of fashion and of letters—who adorned Scotch society between the Rebellions, and continued to adorn many an after-dinner table in Edinburgh down till the present century.
  • Hamilton owns that it was Kames who first taught him “verse to criticise,” and wrote to him the poem “To H.H. at the Assembly”;
  • while Kames for his part used in his old age, as his neighbour Ramsay of Ochtertyre informs us, to have no greater enjoyment than recounting the scenes and doings he and Hamilton had transacted together in those early days, of which the poet himself writes, when they “kept friendship’s holy vigil” in the subterranean taverns of old Edinburgh “full many a fathom deep.”

 

FOOTNOTES:

[19] Home and Hume are only different ways of spelling the same name. Though differently spelt, they were not differently pronounced.

[20] Tytler’s Life of Kames, i. 218.

[21] Blair’s Lectures on Rhetoric and Belles-Lettres, i. 381.

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

[23] Stewart’s Works, ed. Hamilton, vol. x. p. 68.

[24]Correspondence of James Oswald, Preface.

[25]Caldwell Papers, i. 93.

[26] Duncan’s Notes and Documents illustrative of the Literary History of Glasgow, p. 25.


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