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The Anecdotage of Glasgow
Dr. Adam Smith and Glasgow University


This distinguished philosopher, in the year 1737, when entering on his fifteenth year, came to Glasgow University as a student. In 1751 he was appointed Professor of Logic in his Alma Mater, and about a year later he was elected to the Chair of Moral Philosophy. From a statement which Dr. Smith drew up in 1755, it appears, that from the time he obtained a professorship in the University of Glasgow, he had been in the habit of teaching the same liberal policy with respect to the freedom of trade which he afterwards published in his Wealth of Nations.

To the formation of these views he was largely assisted by his observations of the commerce of Glasgow, the merchants in the city affording him considerable assistance. Many of the most eminent merchants imbibed his opinions, although they were in direct opposition to the principles upon which trade was then generally conducted. The Senate of Glasgow University, in 1762, conferred upon him the honorary degree of Doctor of Laws, in testimony of their respect for his universally acknowledged talents, and of the advantage resulting to the University from the ability with which he had expounded the principles of jurisprudence. In 1763, he resigned his Chair and went abroad for about three years. In 1787, he was elected Lord Rector of the University. Of this honour in a letter to Principal Davidson he wrote:-

"No preferment could have given me so much real satisfaction. No man can owe greater obligations to a society than I do to the University of Glasgow. They educated me; they sent me to Oxford. Soon after my return to Scotland, they elected me one of their own members; and afterwards preferred me to another office, to which the abilities and virtues of the never-to-be-forgotten Dr. Hutchison had given a superior degree of illustration. The period of thirteen years which I spent as a member of that society, I remember as by far the most useful, and, therefore, as by far the happiest and most honourable period of my life: and now, after three and twenty years’ absence, to be remembered in so very agreeable manner by my old friends and protectors, gives me a heartfelt joy, which I cannot easily express to you."

Various anecdotes are on record as to his remarkable absence of mind, but none of them are associated with his distinguished career in Glasgow, as student, professor, and lord rector of its famous and time-honoured University.


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