Imágenes de páginas
PDF
EPUB

Mr. Macculloch says that Smith 'does not appear to have felt any peculiar respect for his English alma mater. I am not acquainted with any part of his writings which will give any warranty for such an inference. It is true that he explains, on economical grounds, the low earnings of the clergy, by the fact that their education was in great part gratuitous, and comments, on grounds as precisely economical, on a professorial system, which was not influenced to activity by any considerations of self-interest, stimulated by any sense of duty, or urged by any public opinion. The professors in Adam Smith's time were utterly negligent and indolent. So low had Oxford fallen as a place of learning, that it is doubtful, if these officials had depended on fees, whether a self-interested activity would have procured them pupils, or even an audience.

But though Smith could not probably have confessed to any assistance from the machinery of the University, he doubtlessly recognised the advantages which study and leisure

gave him in that place. He mentions among the claims which the University of Glasgow had on his gratitude, that it sent him to Oxford, and thereby gave him the opportunity for the acquisition of learning.

Smith left Scotland a boy of seventeen years old. He returned at the expiry of his exhibition, to be immediately acknowledged as an able and accomplished scholar. He had great reason to be grateful to Glasgow, since it had put it into his power to acquire this distinction, and it is unreasonable to believe that he was indifferent to the locality from which he had gathered the materials of his reputation.

His first patron was Lord Kames. The Scotch bar and bench have always been honourably distinguished by the literary abilities of many among those who are actively engaged in professional duties. Unlike the great majority of their English brethren, they have constantly risen above the pedantic jargon and sordid anxieties of their calling, have been eminent thinkers and writers as well as able advocates. At the suggestion of Lord Kames, Smith took up his abode in Edinburgh, and in the winter of 1748 delivered a course of lectures on rhetoric and belles-lettres. These lectures were attended by several eminent

persons. On this occasion, Adam Smith formed an acquaintance with David Hume, and commenced a friendship which grew in strength till the philosopher died.

In 1751 Smith was appointed to the Professorship of Logic in Glasgow University, and the next year to that of Moral Philosophy. The latter office had been held by Dr. Hutcheson, whose lectures had been attended by Smith, and whose theory of Moral Philosophy undoubtedly formed the basis of that which Smith subsequently published under the title of. A Theory of Moral Sentiments,' in the year 1759. It appears that Smith's teaching was particularly successful. It is certain that he looked back to the thirteen years waich he spent in Glasgow as the happiest in his life. It may be added that the abovenamed work passed through six editions during the author's lifetime, and received its last corrections during the few months which preceded his death.

While he occupied his chair at Glasgow, Smith was in the habit of giving certain lectures on the elements of Political Economy, as it was understood in his time, i. e. upon those artificial regulations and restraints of civil society which statesmen conceive to be necessary or expedient. Here he was accustomed to draw those inferences in favour of a policy of freedom, which he afterwards expanded into his celebrated work. Neither he, nor indeed any one else, had ever elaborated at this time the laws under which the production of wealth is effectually secured.

The modern science of Political Economy has been developed from a host of negative inductions. Statesmen, misled by the selfish misrepresentations of reputed experts, have from time to time controlled and misdirected trade in the fancied interests of trade. They have attempted to be wiser than nature. They have seen that order and government have been necessary to the wellbeing of society, and that confusion and mischief are the invariable result of uninstructed self-interest. But, forgetting that the business of government is to check aggression only, and to secure every man a fair field for the exercise of his own labour, they have unconsciously aided aggression, curtailed liberty, and narrowed the field in which labour could exercise itself. There is of course a border land, for the occupation of which the advocates of liberty and control constantly contend. The wisdom of government is to limit that border land to the narrowest possible longitude. The wisdom of government in the days of Adam Smith, and frequently enough in our own time, is to extend the area of government, and with it, to assert the just control of an administration over the innocent acts of individuals. Such a line of action on the part of a government may be adopted with the best possible intentions, as Smith shows in the ninth chapter of his Fourth Book, when he sketches the policy of Colbert. Such a policy found its earliest and most complete refutation in the reasonings which are contained in the Wealth of Nations.'

In 1763 Smith was induced to take charge of the young Duke of Buccleuch. In those days, young men of fortune and fashion made what was called the 'grand tour, under the guidance of a tutor. In many cases, beyond doubt, pupil and tutor were like the Pickle and Jolter of Smollett's novel, and the tour was nothing better than a round of frivolity and debauchery. Smith’s relations with his pupil were of the most satisfactory kind. He always spoke of him, says Stewart, with pleasure and gratitude. It is said, too, that the pupil was worthy of the tutor.

Dugald Stewart laments that Smith resigned his chair and entered into this engagement, on the ground that it 'interrupted that studious leisure for which nature seems to have designed him,' and prevented the accomplishment of certain ‘literary projects, which had flattered the ambition of his youthful genius. I am disposed to think that an exactly contrary inference is to be gathered. A man more than forty years of age is, I suppose, no longer liable to be flattered by the ambition of youthful genius, and has made up his mind on the literary projects which he entertains.

Again : the information which he obtained during his residence in France, and the leisure which followed on his return to Scotland, were the materials and opportunity of his great work. He resided for eighteen months in Toulouse, for a short period at Geneva, and for nearly twelve months in Paris. It was in this last-named place that Smith formed the acquaintance of those Economists, whose writings and conversation so much influenced him in his theory of Public Wealth, and studied those phenomena which a meddling and mistaken policy had caused in France.

Smith's friendship with Hume gained him introductions to the best French society. He became intimate with Turgot, Quesnai, Morellet, and many others of that coterie of economists, whose doctrine was challenging the commercial theory of Colbert, and the machinery by which that theory was put in practice. The circumstances of the time, too, were peculiarly convenient for one who was inquisitive as to the causes which promote or retard the material progress of society.

He visited France immediately on the conclusion of the seven years' war. Sismondi

says

that the Peace of Paris contained the most humiliating conditions to which France had submitted since that of Bretigni. She was stripped of her colonies in the New World, of her settlements and factories in the East. Dupleix had all but made India a dependency of France. He had been routed by Clive, and his pretensions annihilated. Montcalm in the New World had similarly been defeated by Wolfe, and Canada became one of the British plantations in America. The gain, indeed, was only superficial. Victory had been obtained by lavish expenditure, and when the reaction of peace came, and the burdens of war were felt, an attempt to levy a portion of these charges on the American colonies, led to the rupture of the ties between them and the mother country, to the war of Independence, to the establishment of an Anglo-Saxon republic, and finally, since the passion for political change is contagious, to the great outbreak of the French Revolution.

The condition of France during the period in which

« AnteriorContinuar »