Some Basic Facts About Adam Smith Spoil Good Intentions by Good People
A short 2-page biography of Adam Smith, “The Life of Adam Smith”, was published this week HERE
by the Adam Smith Global Foundation, of which I have expressed my support for its work on Lost Legacy. I recently attended an excellent 2-day Symposium under the auspices of the global Foundation in Kirkcaldy and admired the enthusiasm of its personnel.
However, I have some criticisms of the biography, recognising that the Foundation works under financial constraints and depends on volunteers for some of it accounts of Adam Smith’s Works, though they are well up-to-speed on their detailed knowledge of the history of Kirkcaldy in general and of Adam Smith’s life there with his mother in particular.
So my comments below are made in a spirit of intending to be helpful. The dedicated people concerned do a magnificent job on developing knowledge of Adam Smith in the local community and abroad.
“Adam went on to attend the University of Glasgow in 1737, where he left with an MA with distinction, before being awarded a Snell exhibition at Balliol College, Oxford. However, disillusioned by his academic life he embarked on an extensive course of self-education, before returning home to Kirkcaldy in 1746. Shortly afterwards he became a lecturer at the University of Edinburgh.”
It was a condition of applying for a Snell Exhibition to Balliol that his Glasgow sponsors affirmed that “Adam Smith had not passed a degree at Glasgow or anywhere else”. As he does not appear to have passed a degree at Oxford either, Smith did not have a MA degree at all. This was not a major issue in the 18th century that it became today. It seems that he was awarded an MA by Glasgow years later retrospectively, but I know of no specific date mentioned in the records. (He was awarded an LL.D degree in 1763).
The last sentence of the above Global Foundation statement is incorrect as it stands.
Adam Smith was never on the Faculty of Edinburgh University.
For the winter months of 1748-49, 1749-50, and 1750-51, paying attendees at his Edinburgh lecture series heard Smith most probably in the meeting rooms of the Philosophical Society, or the Music Society in Edinburgh, but not on University premises. (See Ian S. Ross, The Life of Adam Smith, 1976; 2nd ed. 2010. pp.80-81, Oxford University Press and/or Nicholas Phillipson, Adam Smith: An Enlightened Life, 2010. pp. 89-90 Yale University Press).
Smith delivered his series of lectures, primarily on Rhetoric, but not until 1822 were the first Rhetoric lectures offered at Edinburgh University by Dr. Hugh Blair, a former Enlightenment colleague of Adam Smith’s, who acknowledged years later (Smith died in 1790) his use of Smith’s Rhetoric lecture notes in his own highly successful Rhetoric course.
Meanwhile, chronologically, Smith’s Rhetoric lectures were given under the patronage of Henry Home, later Lord Kames, along with some early versions of the materials later included in his Glasgow lectures on jurisprudence and elements of political economy. Henry Home paid Smith £100 a year as his (generous) share of the fees charged to those who attended.
Smith was well versed in moral philosophy from when he was a student at Glasgow University, under Professor Francis Hutcheson during 1737-40, and from his six years of essentially private study at Balliol College, Oxford (1740-46).
Smith also developed a series of Rhetoric and Jurisprudence lectures at Glasgow University, for which we have a set of student notes on those he delivered in c.1762-3.
Recently, there has been a spate of claims, mainly emanating from the Edinburgh University student press which claim that Smith was on the faculty at Edinburgh University, for which there is no evidence, and is unsupported by any of his main scholarly biographers (Dugald Stewart, John Rae, W. Scott, Ian Ross, or Nicholas Phillipson). Even more recently, some Edinburgh University official publications have made similar claims to those from the student’s press (though the original sources could have been either from the students or the University).
“He served as Professor of Logic, and Chair of Moral Philosophy at Glasgow University from 1751-52, before accepting a well-paid tutoring post to the 3rd Duke of Buccleuch in 1764.”
The dates above should read” from 1751-64” and not “1751-52”.
The dates for Smith’s professorships at Glasgow are well-known; first his election as the Professor of Logic, 1751-2, and then as the Professor of Moral Philosophy, 1752-64.
“In the years that followed he would move around, but preferred to spend his time in Kirkcaldy, socialising and enjoying supper parties, for which he became renowned. Using his experience of life in Kirkcaldy as an inspiration, he then completed what many regard as his magnum opus in 1767 – The Wealth of Nations”.
Smith started writing sections of what re-appeared in the Wealth of Nations (1776) while at Glasgow University. We know this from almost verbatim sections for 1762-3 re-appearing in what became the Wealth Of Nations, in student notes of his “Lectures On Jurisprudence” and also some surviving short manuscript papers known today as “The Early Draft”, found in the archives of Glasgow University. Another Early Draft copy was found at the Duke of Buccleuch’s home in Dalkeith, dated from the time of the young Duke’s stepfather, Charles Townshend’s, residence there, when Smith visited him in the 1760s (Ian Ross, 2010, pp 294-5).
Smith also mentions in his correspondence with David Hume, during Smith’s trip to France with the young Duke, of his starting to write a book “to pass the time”(Smith, Correspondence, from Toulouse, 5 July, 1764).
It is most unlikely, impossible even, that Smith could finish a book of the length and detail of the Wealth Of Nations a year after his return from France to Kirkcaldy in 1767. Therefore he did not finish WN so early.
The facts suggest Smith completed much of WN in Kirkcaldy in 1773, before he passed briefly through Edinburgh on his way to London to supervise his book’s passage through his printer/publisher. Also he seems to have deliberately held back from finishing WN completely because reportedly he was “zealous” in American affairs and was trying to influence government Ministers in favour of conciliation with America many months before and during 1775.The Duke of Buccleuch and David Hume had advised him to cease to be “zealous on American affairs”. It is possible that he was also held it back to see how the troubles in the British colonies of North America (then still a colony) were decided before publishing WN.
In the event he seems to have taken his friends’ advice and he handed over his very large manuscript for type-setting and proof-reading in November-December 1775 and the first 2-volume edition of Wealth Of Nations was published in March, 1776, several months before the Beginning of the End on July 4, 1776.