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LIFE AND WRITINGS
ADAM SMITH, LL. D.
FROM THE TRANSACTIONS OF THE ROYAL SOCIETY OF EDINBURGH. [Read by Mr. Stewart, January 21, and March 18, 1793.]
LIFE AND WRITINGS
ADAM SMITH, LL. D.
From Mr. Smith's Birth till the Publication of the Theory of Moral Sentiments.
ADAM SMITH, Author of the Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, was the son of Adam Smith, Comptroller of the Customs at Kirkaldy,* and of Margaret Douglas, daughter of Mr. Douglas of Strathenry. He was the only child of the marriage, and was born at Kirkaldy on the 5th of June, 1723, a few months after the death of his father.
His constitution during infancy was infirm and sickly, and required all the tender solicitude of his surviving parent. She was blamed for treating him with an unlimited indulgence; but it produced no unfavorable effects on his temper or his dispositions :-and he enjoyed the rare satisfaction of being able to repay her affection, by every attention that filial gratitude could dictate, during the long period of sixty years.
*Mr. Smith, the father, was a native of Aberdeenshire, and in the earlier part of his life practised at Edinburgh as a writer to the Signet. He was afterwards private secretary to the Earl of Loudoun, (during the time that he held the offices of principal Secretary of State for Scotland, and of Keeper of the Great Seal,) and continued in this situation till 1713 or 1714, when he was appointed comptroller of the customs at Kirkaldy. He was also clerk to the courts martial and councils of war for Scotland; an office which he held from 1707 till his death. As it is now seventy years since he died, the accounts I have received of him are very imperfect; but from the particulars already mentioned, it may be presumed, that he was a man of more than common abilities.
An accident which happened to him when he was about three years old, is of too interesting a nature to be omitted in the account of so valuable a life. He had been carried by his mother to Strathenry on a visit to his uncle Mr. Douglas, and was one day amusing himself alone at the door of the house, when he was stolen by a party of that set of vagrants, who are known in Scotland by the name of Tinkers. Luckily he was soon missed by his uncle, who hearing that some vagrants had passed, pursued them, with what assistance he could find, till he overtook them in Leslie wood; and was the happy instrument of preserving to the world a genius, which was destined, not only to extend the boundaries of science, but to enlighten and reform the commercial policy of Europe.
The school of Kirkaldy, where Mr. Smith received the first rudiments of his education, was then taught by Mr. David Miller, a teacher, in his day, of considerable reputation, and whose name deserves to be recorded, on account of the eminent men whom that very obscure seminary produced while under his direction. Of this number were Mr. Oswald of Dunikeir; his brother, Dr. John Oswald, afterwards Bishop of Raphoe; and our late excellent colleague, the Reverend Dr. John Drysdale: all of them nearly contemporary with Mr. Smith, and united with him through life by the closest ties of friendship. One of his school-fellows is still alive; * and to his kindness I am principally indebted for the scanty materials which form the first part of this narrative.
Among these companions of his earliest years, Mr. Smith soon attracted notice, by his passion for books, and by the extraordinary powers of his memory. The weakness of his bodily constitution prevented him from partaking in their more active amusements; but he was much beloved by them on account of his temper, which, though warm, was to an uncommon degree friendly and generous. Even then he was remarkable for those habits which remained with him through life, of speaking to himself when alone, and of absence in company.
* George Drysdale, Esq. of Kirkaldy, brother of the late Dr. Drysdale.
From the grammar-school of Kirkaldy, he was sent, in 1737, to the University of Glasgow, where he remained till 1740, when he went to Balliol College, Oxford, as an exhibitioner on Snell's foundation.
Dr. Maclaine of the Hague, who was a fellow-student of Mr. Smith's at Glasgow, told me some years ago, that his favorite pursuits while at that University were Mathematics and Natural Philosophy; and I remember to have heard my father remind him of a geometrical problem of considerable difficulty, about which he was occupied at the time when their acquaintance commenced, and which had been proposed to him as an exercise, by the celebrated Dr. Simpson.
These, however, were certainly not the sciences in which he was formed to excel; nor did they long divert him from pursuits more congenial to his mind. What Lord Bacon says of Plato may be justly applied to him: "Ilfum, licet ad rempublicam non accessisset, tamen naturâ et inclinatione omnino ad res civiles propensum, vires eo præcipue intendisse ; neque de Philosophia Naturali admodum sollicitum esse; nisi quatenus ad Philosophi nomen et celebritatem tuendam, et ad majestatem quandam moralibus et civilibus doctrinis addendam et aspergendam sufficeret." * The study of human nature in all its branches, more particularly of the political history of mankind, opened a boundless field to his curiosity and ambition; and while it afforded scope to all the various powers of his versatile and comprehensive genius, gratified his ruling passion, of contributing to the happiness and the improvement of society. To this study, diversified at his leisure hours by the less severe occupations of polite literature, he seems to have devoted himself almost entirely from the time of his removal to Oxford; but he still retained, and retained even in advanced years, a recollection of his early acquisitions, which not only added to the splendor of his conversation, but enabled him to exemplify some of his favorite theories concerning the natural progress of the mind in the investigation of truth, by the history of those sciences in which the connexion and succession