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Adam Smith, LL.D., Author of the "Wealth of Nations"


Adam Smith, LL.D., was born at Kirkaldy, on the 5th of June, 1723, a few months after the death of his father, who was Comptroller of the Customs of that town. His mother was Margaret Douglas, daughter of Mr. Douglas of Strathenry. His constitution was very delicate, and required all the care and attention which a kind parent could bestow. She is reported to have treated him with unlimited indulgence ; but this produced no injurious effects upon his disposition, and during the long period of sixty years, he was enabled to repay her kindness by every token which filial gratitude could inspire. A singular incident happened to him when about three years old. Whilst with his mother at Strathenry, where she was on a visit, he was one day amusing himself at the door of the house, when be was stolen by a party of vagrants, known in Scotland by the name of tinkers— Anglice, Egyptians or Muggers. Fortunately be was immediately missed, and his uncle pursuing them, found them located in Leslie Wood, where he was rescued from their hands.

At a proper age young Smith was sent to the parish school of Kirkaldy, then taught by Mr. David Miller, a teacher, in his day, of considerable repute. In 1737, he repaired to the University of Glasgow, where he remained till 1740. Being elected as an exhibitioner on Snell's foundation, he went to Baliol College, Oxford, and resided there for seven years. Mr. Snell's foundation is perhaps one of the largest and most liberal in Britain. In the year 1688, he bequeathed an estate in Warwickshire for the support of Scottish students at Baliol College, Oxford, who had studied for some years at the University of Glasgow, in which the patronage is vested. They now amount to ten, and may remain at Oxford for ten years.

Dr. Smith had been originally destined for the Church of England, but not finding the ecclesiastical profession suitable to his taste, he abandoned the path that had been chalked out for him, returned to Kirkaldy, and lived two years with his mother. He fixed his residence in Edinburgh in 1748, and during that and following years, under the patronage of Lord Karnes, he read Lectures on Rhetoric and the Belles Lettres. In 1751, he was elected Professor of Logic in the University of Glasgow, and in the subsequent year was removed to the Professorship of Moral Philosophy in the same seminary. He remained in this situation thirteen years, and frequently was wont to look back to this period as the most useful and happy of his life.

In 1755, "The Edinburgh Review" was projected, and to this work—which only reached two numbers, and is now remarkable for its scarcity—he contributed a review of Dr. Johnson's Dictionary, and a letter addressed to the editors, containing observations on the state of literature in the different countries of Europe. The "Theory of Moral Sentiments" appeared in 1759, and the same volume contained a dissertation on the origin of languages, and on the different genius of those which are original and compounded. Towards the end of 17G3, he received an invitation from the Right Hon. Charles Towns-hend, to accompany Henry Duke of Buccleuch on his travels, and the liberal terms of the proposal made, added to the strong desire he had felt of visiting the Continent of Europe, induced him to resign his Professorship at Glasgow. Before he left that city, he requested all his pupils to attend him, and as each name was called over he returned the several sums he had received as fees, saying, that as he had not completely fulfilled his engagement, he was resolved his class should be instructed that year gratis, and the remainder of his lectures should be read by one of the senior students.

Adam Smith

After leaving Glasgow, he joined the Duke at London early in 1704, and set out for Paris in the month of March. In this first visit to Paris they only spent ten or twelve days, and then proceeded to Toulouse, where they fixed their residence: they next undertook a pretty extensive tour through the south of France to Geneva, and about Christmas 1705, revisited Paris, where they resided till October 1700, when the Duke returned to London.

For the next ten years Dr. Smith lived chiefly with his mother in Kirkaldy, and his time was entirely occupied by his studies. In the beginning of 1770, he gave to the world the result of his labour, by the publication of his "Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations." About two years after the appearance of this work, he was appointed one of the Commissioners of his Majesty's Customs in Scotland, a preferment bestowed upon him through the interest of the Duke of Buccleuch. When he obtained this appointment he offered to resign the annuity of £300 per annum, which had been granted him for superintending the Duke's education and travels, an offer which was immediately declined. The greater part of the two years preceding his appointment he lived in London in a society too extensive and varied to afford him any opportunity of indulging his taste for study, although much of it was spent with some of the most distinguished literary characters, as may be seen by the following verses by Dr. Barnard, addressed to Sir Joshua Reynolds and his friends:—

"If I have thoughts and can't express 'em,
Gibbon shall teach me how to dress 'em,
In words select and terse;
Jones teach me modesty and Greek,
Smith how to think, Burke how to speak,
And Bendire to converse."

In 1778, Dr. Smith removed to Edinburgh, with the view of attending to the duties of his new office, where he passed the last twelve years of his life, enjoying an affluence more than equal to all his wants. He now and then revisited London. The last time he was there, he had engaged to cline with Lord Melville, then Mr. Dundas, at Wimbledon ; Mr. Pitt, Mr. Grenville, Mr. Addington, afterwards Lord Sidmouth, and some other of his lordship's friends were there. Dr. Smith happened to come late, and the company had sat down to dinner. The moment, however, he came into the room, the company all rose up; he made an apology for being late, and entreated them to sit down. "No," said the gentlemen, "we will stand till you are seated, for ive are all your scholars.'" His mother died in extreme old age in 1784. His own health and strength gradually declined (for he began very early to feel the infirmities of age) till the period of his death, which happened in July, 1790. A few days previous to this he gave orders to destroy all his manuscripts, excepting some detached Essays, which were afterwards published, having been entrusted to the care of his executors, Dr. Joseph Black and Dr. James Hutton, with whom he had long lived in habits of the most intimate friendship. Although Dr. Smith's income for the latter years of his life was considerable, he did not leave much fortune, owing to the hospitality and generosity of his nature. No man ever did more generous things. His library, which was a valuable one, it is understood is still preserved entire. It had devolved to his nephew, the late Lord Beston, and is now in possession of his widow.


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