Friday, July 04, 2008

Events Associated with the Unveiling of Adam Smith’s Statue: 2

The first event of the day was the ‘breakfast’ reception at Panmure House in which Adam Smith lived from 1778 to 1790.

Eamonn Butler, director of the Adam Smith Institute, opened the proceedings and welcomed the early morning participants. I was next up the give a short speech on Adam Smith’s life in Panmure House, where he lived with his mother, Margaret Douglas Smith, and his cousin, Janet Douglas, and his housekeeper of his household from 1754 (at his house at Professors’ Close, Glasgow University) to when she died in at Panmure House in 1787.

Necessarily brief and selective, I reported on the visit by the young English poet, Samuel Rogers, who left a memoir of his visit to Edinburgh in 1789 and his reception by Adam Smith, regarded as a typical experience of Smith’s household in those later years of Smith’s life (d. 1790).

Smith invited him to dine everyday, and though his other social obligations cut into his free time, he did dine and sup with Smith, and accompanied him to the Oyster Club to meet some of his enlightenment friends (including Joseph Black, discovererof latent heat and cor-respondent of James Watt. He also joined Smith at his regular Sunday dinner (‘between sermons’ – Roger’s not Smith’s – at the local Kirk). Panmure House is almost next door to Canongate Kirk (where Smith is now buried).

On that particular Sunday, Smith’s guests included William Robertson (Principal of Edinburgh University), Hugh Blair (‘too puffed up’ by his fame as a preacher), Henry Mackenzie (Attorney for the Crown in Scotland). James Hutton (farmer, geologist and Smith’s close friend), and John McGowan (Lawyer).

They discussed, says Rogers, the French economist, Turgot and the Geneva man-of-letters, Voltaire. After their repast, they went together to a meeting of the Royal Society of Edinburgh (of which Smith was a founder member in 1783; he had been admitted previously to the Royal Society of London in 1772). The RSE meeting (only seven people present) heard a paper by Dr Anderson (author of papers on political economy, and reputed to have presented a theory of rent that anticipated David Ricardo’s), which Samuel Rogers described as ‘dull’.

Rogers found Adam Smith to be ‘very friendly and agreeable’ and observed that he did not have the ‘absence of mind’ that he was reputed to have.

Adam Smith died in Panmure House in 1790 and his literary executors (Joseph Black and James Hutton) supervised the burning of his 16 volumes of unpublished papers, a manuscript on Jurisprudence) which he had advertised in successive editions of Moral Sentiments since 1759, but which he never finished.

I gave my opinion that he reason for seeking employment as a Commissioner of Customs was to create a sound case for being too busy to complete the work on his book. Why? Because his book on Jurisprudence, which he described in his Lectures on Jurisprudence (the sets of students’ notes found in 1895 and 1958) as ‘the theory of the rules by which civil government ought to be directed’.

Once the decisive war of independence broke out in 1776, the contending issues about how a country ‘ought to be governed’, as expressed by the writings of, and his conversations with, representative figures (example. Bejamin Franklin) in the intellectual core of the colonists’ leaders and influencers, were bound to cause him severe personal and political embarrassment. How could he not discuss and comment upon how the colonists wished to be governed outside the rule of the King and legislature of Great Britain? And whatever he did discuss – how he honestly and intellectually would have to present it or how he emasculated his own thinking and tried to hide his sympathies – was bound to cause him serious problems with the political establishment of his country and his King.

His solution was to become ‘too busy’ to complete and publish his book. So he didn’t and on his death bed he ordered his friends to burn all of his unpublished manuscripts, except of course, his Essays on the Philosophical Method, which included his History of Astronomy, kept locked in his bureau for 40 years that he began writing in 1744 while at Oxford (but that’s another story…), which Black and Hutton published pothumously in 1795.


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