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LIFE OF DR. ADAM SMITH
PUBLISHED UNDER THE SUPERINTENDENCE OF THE SOCIETY FOR THE DIFFUSION OF USEFUL
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Yet the earliest and most amusing, if not
most accurate of biographers thought It is well known that the late lamented otherwise. “ It is not always," says PluDugald Stewart, amidst the profound and tarch, " in the most distinguished excomprehensive studies to which his life ploits that men's virtues or vices may be was dedicated, became the biographer best discerned; but frequently an action of three of his countrymen-two of of small note, a short saying or a jest them being amongst the most distin- distinguishes a person's real character guished of whom Scotland has to boast : more than the greatest battles or the these were, Dr. Robertson the historian, most important actions. As painters and Adam Smith. His friend and tutor, labour the likeness in the face, so must Dr. Reid, we place, where we conceive we be permitted to strike off the features the world has placed him, in a rank far of the soul, in order to give a real likebelow these, and where we cannot but ness to these great men*." Upon this think Mr. Stewart would himself have principle has this inimitable writer left us placed him, if his affectionate remem- à record of the lives of upwards of fifty brance of his early instructor had left his warriors, legislators, and statesmen, in. judgment perfectly impartial with respect vesting them with an interest and a wisto Dr. Reid's merits as a philosopher. dom which will delight and instruct the
Since the days of the Memorabilia, last generations of mankind. when Xenophon became the biographer There may have been biographers of Socrates, there has been seen perhaps who have carried their passion for detail no proportion so equal betwixt the writer and minute anecdote somewhat too far, and his subject, as when Dugald but even in such cases we feel it is rather Stewart wrote the “ Memoirs of the ungrateful to condemn them; and we Life and Writings of Adam Smith.” Yet, might take the very extreme of this class, congenial as was the theme, and beauti- even Boswell himself, with all his faults, fully as he has illustrated the writings, and almost challenge the world to prothere is a deficiency in the life. was duce another book of biography of equal observed of Mallet, that he wrote the interest with the Life of Johnson. life of Lord Bacon, and forgot that he But betwixt Plutarch and Boswell was a philosopher. This, at least, can- there is an interval, almost as wide as not be said of Mr. Stewart. He has kept between Auchinleck and Chæronea; the philosopher so much in mind, that he and Mr. Stewart ought not, perhaps, has almost forgotten the man. In his strictly to have conformed himself to review of the works of the distinguished the example of either. Yet we cannot person, in his criticism and his com- but regret that much that would interest ments, we find everything that we can us has been lost for
ever; desire and might expect, even from the peculiarities, those lights and shadows pen of Mr. Stewart; but we look in vain which would have made us familiar with for those traits of personal character, the man, and given a graphic reality to those slight yet important incidents and the portrait. Mr. Stewart was the peranecdotes which marked the individual, sonal friend of Adam Smith during many which, when preserved and depicted, of his latter years; and for all that related form the great charm of biography, and to him previously, it would have been the which serve, far more than the most la- easiest thing in the world to have colboured disquisition or panegyric, to re- lected information and anecdote in the commend to us, and quicken our inte- society of Edinburgh. If it be one rest in, the circumstances by which the object, as it must be presumed of the subject of the memorial acquired his biographer, to extend the fame of the celebrity. Mr. Stewart seems to have person whose life he undertakes to reentertained a difference of opinion upon cord, surely it must be obvious how this point; possibly he deemed it beneath the dignity of the life of a philosopher.
* Plutarch-Lise of Alexander.
much is lost in this respect by this par- tune should have attended two of the tial mode of exhibiting him.
most remarkable men whom Scotland “ The else unvalued circumstances in has produced. It was the fate of Hume the lives of literary men" (says Mr. to lose his father in his infancy, and to Mackenzie in his “ Memoir of the Life owe, like Smith, to a widowed mother, all of John Home”) “ acquire an interest the protection and care so requisite at that with the reader, proportionate to that early period. The mother of our young which the writings of the author have philosopher was, by, some persons, acexcited; and we are anxious to know cused of over-indulging her son, but the every little occurrence which befel him, indulgence of the parent was best vindiwho was giving, at the period when cated by the growing temper and disthese occurrences took place, the pro- position of the child, and Mrs. Smith duct of his mind to the public. We are during her long life (which extended till anxious to know how the world treated within twelve years of the death of her a man who was labouring for its instruc- son) had never occasion to reproach hertion or amusement, as well as the effect self for any indiscreet kindness, but had which his private circumstances had on the happiness to see her parental care his literary productions, or the com- acknowledged to the hour of her death, plexion, as one may term it, which those by every attention which filial affection productions borrowed from the incidents could prompt. of his life. These considerations afford an An accident befel him when he was apology for the narratives of the compa- about three years of age, which, if it had ratively unimportant occupations which not proved fatal to his life, might have the world peruses with so much interest strangely altered his future destiny, and —they help that personification of an might thus, perhaps, have influenced, in author which the reader of his work so no small degree, the progress of political naturally indulges ; and if they some- science in Europe. He had been on a times put him right in his estimate of visit to his uncle, Mr. Douglas of Straththe influence of genius or feeling upon enry; and as he was one day amusing conduct, they serve at the same time as a himself at the door of the house, he was moral lesson on the subject, and a mark carried off by a party of gipsies. Hapas it were of the unexpected shores or pily he was very soon missed by his islands, sometimes it may be rocks or uncle, who having learned that a set of quicksands, on the chart of life.” vagrants had recently passed that way,
pursued and overtook them in Leslie SECTION 2.- From the birth of Dr. Wood—with feelings with which it is Smith till the publication of the easy to sympathize, even without referTheory of Moral Sentiments.” ence to the importance of the life he had
preserved. Adam Smith was born at Kirkaldy, in When the period arrived at which it Fifeshire, on the 5th of June, 1723. was deemed proper that he should be His father was comptroller of the cus- sent to school, he was placed under the toms at that place, and had in early life care of Mr. David Miller, who then practised as a writer to the signet in taught the school at Kirkaldy,-a person Edinburgh. He had been for some years who enjoyed no inconsiderable reputaprivate secretary to the Earl of Loudon, tion as a teacher in his day, and who had when he received his appointment to the the fortune to educate, about the same customs at Kirkaldy. His wife was the period, a few men of greater eminence daughter of Mr. Douglas, of Strathenry; in after life than are frequently to be and Adam was the only issue of their found registered in so obscure a semimarriage. His mother lived long enough nary. With some of these Smith conto enjoy the celebrity of her son ; but he tracted an intimacy which lasted during had the misfortune never to have known their lives. We are not exactly inthe care and affection of his father, formed of the time when he was placed whose death took place a few months under Mr. Miller's care, but we know previous to the birth of his distinguished that he remained with him till he atoffspring. His constitution during in- tained his fourteenth year. His great fancy, we are informed, was weak and love of books, even in those early years, sickly, and required the tenderest solici- attracted the notice of his schoolfeltude of his surviving parent for the pre- lows, as did the extraordinary powers of servation of his life. It is remarkable his memory, and those habits of mental that in this respect a nearly similar for- abstraction for which he was remarkable indulged and strengthened the more, and polite literature; 'and, though he owing to the weakness of his constitu- prized the persons and the characters tion, which prevented his joining in the of mathematicians and natural philosomore active pastimes of his companions. phers, and has judged highly (perhaps Their fondness for him was not lessened partially) of the tendency of such stuby habits which schoolboys in general dies upon the temper and morals of the might be apt to regard as 'unsocial, but individual*, it is quite clear that they it arose from the excellence of his tem- were neither so congenial to his taste, per, and the warm and generous feelings nor did he estimate their importance to which distinguished him.
the interests of mankind as being in any It is to be regretted that we know so respect equal to that of other branches little of the nature of his reading at this of philosophy, and those more especially period of his life. That he was well which he afterwards himself so largely grounded in the dead languages, and illustrated and advanced. To these that the classic writers of Greece and latter, therefore, to the history of manRome were favourite objects of his kind, to the moral, economical, and postudy whilst he was under the care of litical phases which are presented in its Mr. Miller, may safely be presumed. progress, we may be assured, without His works afford abundant evidence of any particular testimony, that his attenthe extent of his acquirements in this tion was very early directed, and for a department of literature, a relish for long period of years in a great measure which never deserted him in after life, confined. But we have one fact that even amidst the profound inquiries goes strikingly in proof of this, which is which occupied his attention while en interesting on many accounts, and not gaged in the composition of his greatest the least so as pointing out the first and work. Had Dr. Smith, however, like only book which we know to have been Gibbon, become his own biographer, or read by him about this period, and which like Johnson, had he had the fortune to must have been read from love alone, leave behind him such a chronicler as since it was read by stealth. Boswell, we might then have seen, In 1740, after three years spent at perhaps in the earliest unprescribed Glasgow, he was removed to the unistudies of the recluse student at Kir- versity of Oxford, and entered at Baliol kaldy, the first indications of that ten- College as an exhibitioner on Snell's dency of mind and mode of thinking foundation. It would appear that which
gave promise of the future author shortly after his arrival there, from some of the “ Wealth of Nations."
cause or other he had given occasion to In 1737, at the age of fourteen, he suspect that his private hours were left Kirkaldy, and was removed to the not always devoted to such books as the University of Glasgow, where he had the discipline of Oxford prescribes to its happiness of studying under Dr. Francis students; and it was determined thereHutcheson, of whom he always spoke, fore by the heads of the college, with as he has written, in terms of the highest more of zeal than honour, that the young admiration. The lectures of that dis- philosopher from the north should be tinguished professor may be fairly con- taken by surprise in his chamber, in sidered as having first directed his views order to ascertain whether the nature of to that branch of ethical philosophy so his studies was really orthodox or not. beautifully illustrated in the “ Theory of Unluckily, he was found reading the Moral Sentiments," which he after- “ Treatise of Human Nature," then rewards gave to the world, and in which cently published, and the discovery was he has equal merit in having confirmed of course followed by a severe repriwhat was right, and corrected what was mand and the forfeiture of the forbidden wrong in the speculations of his elo. volume. Smith, at that time, knew quent .tutor. It is said, however, that perhaps nothing more of the book he Mathematics and Natural Philosophy was perusing than that it was the proengaged the greater portion of his at- duction of a young Scotchman—a work, tention during his residence at Glasgow; which as the author of it said himself, but his “ History of Astronomy" in the "fell dead-born from the press," little Posthumous Essays is the only one of known and a good deal decried, but his writings in which we discover much recommended to Smith by the subject of the fruits of his acquaintance with those sciences, His illustrations are al. * Vide Theory of Moral Sent., Part III., Cb. 2,