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Econ 429.8.69 (1)

Econ 429644

1871, July'.
Hard Fund.



THE few materials which exist for a memoir of Adam

Smith were collected by Dugald Stewart, shortly after the Economist's death. That they are so few, is probably due to the fact that Smith destroyed his papers, with hardly any exceptions, during the last few days of his life. The biography of men of letters can seldom be extended to any length, except when they supply the materials for such a purpose, by compiling diaries, and preserving their correspondence; or more rarely still, when a Johnson finds his Boswell.

According then to this authority, Adam Smith was the posthumous son of another Adam Smith, and was born on June 5th, 1723. The father had been a Writer to the Signet, a profession equivalent in Scotland to that of an attorney in the Southern Kingdom. At the time of his death, however, he was Comptroller of the Customs at Kirkcaldy, in Fifeshire. In those times, the revenue of the Scotch customs was very scanty ; emuggling was all but universal, for the Scotch gentry detested the House of Hanover, and the Methuen treaty with equal energy. It is stated over and over again by Macpherson, that the customs of the Northern Kingdom were wholly absorbed by local charges and the costs of collection.

The comptroller's widow continued to live at Kirkcaldy. Her own relations resided at Strathendry, a few miles distant. Their name was Douglas, and it is plain from the history of the household that the ties between Mrs. Smith and her relatives were close, affectionate, and lasting.

The child was weakly, and needed unremitting care. Dugald Stewart informs us that he was treated with anxious indulgence by his mother. Both care and indulgence were repaid by him in constant and dutiful affection. The mother lived to a great age in the enjoyment of her son's high reputation, and in the experience of his solicitous tenderness.

When he was three years old, he was stolen by gypsies from his grandfather's house, but soon recovered. The Scotch gypsies, if Scott's descriptions in 'Guy Mannering' and the Heart of Mid Lothian' are correct, met the persecution to which they were legally liable, with persevering and successful audacity. Strathendry is near Loch Leven, and at that time, no doubt, was excellently situated for marauders.

Smith's early education was obtained at Kirkcaldy Grammar School. The founders of the Scottish Reformation were profoundly impressed with the necessity of furthering a general system of school training, and it is certain that the intellectual and material progress of Scotland has been mainly due to the early adoption of a national education.

At fourteen years of age, the boy was sent to Glasgow, where he remained three years. At the age of seventeen, he was nominated to one of Snell's exhibitions, and thereupon proceeded to Balliol College, Oxford.

In the year 1677, a merchant named Snell founded a number of exhibitions, for the purpose of educating young Scotchmen at Balliol College, who should enter into episcopal orders. Another benefaction, for similar objects, was bestowed by Bishop Warner. The trustees and patrons of Snell's benefaction were the academical authorities of Glasgow University.

Twelve years after the date of Snell's gift, the episcopal form of Church government was disestablished in Scotland. Snell's gift, however, remained, and from this time forth has been the means by which promising young Scotchmen are yearly drafted off to complete their studies at Oxford, and in a college which is peculiarly connected, through its founders, with the Scottish nation. It cannot be doubted that much of the reputation, which that college has won, is to be ascribed to the excellence of the material selected for it by the machinery of Snell's benefaction. In the kingdom of letters Balliol has done more good for Scotland than Bruce did.

Adam Smith remained in Oxford for seven years. His matriculation entry, Adamus Smith e Coll. Ball. Gen. Fil.,' and dated Jul. 7mo 1740,' is written in a round school-boy hand. I find from an examination of the Buttery Books, still preserved at Balliol College, that he resided uninterruptedly in Oxford, from his matriculation till August 15th, 1746, for during this time he drew his commons from the college buttery. It may be worth while to note that the cost of his first quarter's residence was £7 58. od., and that this is a fair average of the charges incurred by an Oxford education, as far as maintenance went, at that time. His name does not occur in the list of Oxford graduates compiled by Dr. Bliss. But the Buttery Books style him Dominus, i.e. B.A., for the first time on the week ending April 13th, 1744. He ceases to draw commons from the buttery on the week ending with August 15th, 1746, but his name remains on the books up to and after his return to Scotland. His original intention appears to have been that of entering into the orders of the English Church; but he abandoned this purpose at or before the conclusion of his Oxford career.

At hardly any period was the reputation of the University of Oxford lower than during the time when Smith studied within its precincts. The literature of this country was at its ebb; the University lay in a profound lethargy, for the students were few and dissolute, the authorities were ignorant and careless. At the close of the seventeenth century, the University adopted the extreme positions laid down by the advocates of passive obedience. Its Convocation had solemnly voted that certain propositions, now accepted as the basis of civil government, were false, seditious, and impious. This decree was burnt in 1709, pursuant to an order of the House of Lords, by the common hangman. After the accession of the Hanoverian family, the University became a focus of Jacobite plots. Many of the heads of colleges were mixed up in these intrigues, the most active among these adherents of the Stuarts having been King, the Principal of St. Mary Hall.

It is probable that Smith laid the foundation of that general and extensive reading which characterises his writings, during his seven years' study at Oxford. There can be no doubt that he availed himself largely of the Bodleian Library, and collected from its volumes many

of those illustrations of social economy which are found in the Wealth of Nations.'

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