From Lost Legacy Archives, 2008
While Waiting for Dinner in an Edinburgh Library …
I was early for a dinner-discussion [on the renovation of Panmure House] last night with several scholars [including Ian Ross, author the definitive biography of Adam Smith, 1975, 2nd ed. 2011, Oxford University Press; Chris Berry, editor of the Handbook on Adam Smith, 2013, Oxford University Press; Craig Smith, co-editor of the Handbook, 2013; each in their academic fields, highly knowledgeable about the moral philosophy and political economy taught by Adam Smith. Inevitably, while waiting, I scanned the crowded bookshelves, mainly of 18th and 19th century well-bound volumes of books related to Edinburgh.
I came across such a 3-volume set and recognised the author as a friend of Adam Smith and the man who replaced him, after he had delivered his series of private lectures, sponsored by Henry Home, lawyer friend (later Lord Kames, a distinguished Enlightenment author and Scottish judge) and James Oswald (a close friend and a rising star in British politics at Westminster). These lectures were on several subjects, including Rhetoric and Belles Lettres, delivered to a ‘respectable auditory’ from 1748-51 in Edinburgh, from which Smith earned a fee of £100 per winter term (not bad for an unemployed Glasgow and Oxford graduate - though no trace of his actual formal graduation at either place is proven) - near to, but not in or by him on the faculty of Edinburgh University [as recently persistently claimed by people in the University]. His audience consisted largely of that university’s students of law and theology, and the general public. His lecture series established his academic reputation with the professors at Glasgow [some of whom visited Edinburgh to hear them].
When Smith was appointed a Professor of Logic at Glasgow University, he finished off that winter’s lucrative lecture course, thus delaying the start of his Glasgow lectures to the following winter term, and he handed over the lucrative private lecture series and subjects to his friend, Hugh Blair, who was soon to commence a successful career as a lecturer in Rhetoric at Edinburgh University (and who became a popular Edinburgh Sunday preacher too). Blair asked Smith for his notes on Rhetoric to get him started and Smith obliged.
Hugh Blair became a popular lecturer at Edinburgh and he expanded Smith’s Rhetoric lectures, making the subject his own, and they were published in 1827. They read well and they are in a more polished style in comparison to the student notes of Smith lectures under the same title. Few traces can be found of Smith’s original text in his “Notes of Dr Smith’s Rhetorick Lectures”, found in a manor-house sale in Aberdeenshire by John M. Lothian (1896-1970) in 1961 (and published by him as Lectures on Rhetoric and Belles Lettres Delivered in the University of Glasgow by Adam Smith, Reported by a Student in 1762-63 (Nelson, 1963). These Notes were re-edited by J. C. Bryce (and A. S. Skinner) and published as Lectures on Rhetoric and Belles Lettres for the Glasgow Edition of the Works and Correspondence of Adam Smith by the Oxford University Press in 1983 (Liberty Fund, 1985).
I opened Hugh Blair’s three-volumes and out of curiousity looked them over, until the other dinner guests arrived. Turning the pages, I became curious to see how he presented his chapter on metaphors, a subject of great interest to me today because of the elevation of Smith’s use of the invisible-hand metaphor into an invented fantasy way, way beyond anything meant by Smith when he used the now famous metaphor once only in each of Moral Sentiments (1759), Wealth Of Nations (1776) and (posthumous) in his History of Astronomy (1795).
I noted down some sentences from Hugh Blair’s account, as below:
Hugh Blair, Lectures on Rhetoric and Belles Lettres, 3 volumes, London. Vol. 1, Lecture XV: Metaphors:
“founded entirely on the resemblance which one object bears to another … it is no other than a comparison, expressed in an abridged form.
When I say of some great minister ‘ upholds the state, like a pillar which supports the weight of a whole edifice’, I fairly make a comparison; but when I say of such a minister ‘that he is a pillar of the state’, it has now become a metaphor. The comparison betwixt the minister and a pillar is made in the mind, but it is expressed without any words that denote comparison. The comparison is only insinuated, not expressed, the object is supposed to be so like the other, without formally drawing the comparison; the name of one may be put in place of the other” (pp 342-3).
This literary explanation given by Hugh Blair of the role of metaphors corresponds well with Adam Smith’s rougher spoken words, but clearly meant the same (as it still would today).
See Adam Smith, Lectures on Rhetoric and Belles Lettres, Oxford University Press in 1983 (Liberty Fund, 1985), p 29.
[I re-publish these on Lost Legacy today as they may be interest to recent readers.]