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Page:Dictionary of National Biography volume 53.djvu/13

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Smith
Smith
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and Hume in April 1772 complains that he was ‘cutting himself off entirely from human society.’ In 1772 his friend William Pulteney recommended him to the directors of the East India Company as member of a commission of inquiry into their administration to be sent to India. Smith, in a letter of 5 Sept. 1772 (Rae, p. 253), states his willingness to accept the appointment, but the scheme was soon afterwards abandoned. Smith mentions that his book would have been ready for the press but for bad health, for ‘too much thinking upon one thing’ and other ‘avocations’ due to public troubles; probably, as Mr. Rae suggests, liabilities incurred by the Duke of Buccleuch through the failure of Heron's bank. Smith went to London with the manuscript of his book in the spring of 1773, leaving directions with Hume as to the disposal of his other manuscripts in the event of his death. He was in London frequently, if he did not stay there continuously, during the next four years (Rae, p. 263). In 1775 he was elected a member of ‘The Club;’ he is mentioned by Horace Walpole, Bishop Percy, and others; and it is said that he often met Franklin and carefully discussed chapters of the ‘Wealth of Nations’ with Franklin, Dr. Price, and ‘others of the literati’ (Watson, Annals of Philadelphia, i. 553). Various passages in the book show that it was undergoing revisions at this time. ‘The Wealth of Nations’ was at last published on 9 March 1776. He seems to have received 500l. from Strahan for the first edition, and published the later editions upon half profits (Rae, p. 285). The book succeeded at once, and the first edition was exhausted in six months. According to Mr. Rae it was not mentioned in the House of Commons till 11 Nov. 1783, when Fox quoted a maxim from that ‘excellent book’ (Parl. Hist. xxiii. 1152). As Fox admitted to Charles Butler (Reminiscences, i. 176) that he had never read the book and could never understand the subject, the allusion is the stronger testimony to its general authority. It was never even ‘mentioned in the House again’ (that is, of course, in the very imperfect reports) ‘until 1787,’ nor in the House of Lords till 1793. During the American war, however, Lord North, in imposing new taxes, seems to have taken some hints from the ‘Wealth of Nations,’ especially in the house-tax (1778) and the malt-tax (1780) (see Rae, pp. 290–4; and Dowell, Taxation, ii. 166–73). Pitt studied the book carefully, applied its principles in the French treaty of 1786, and spoke of it with veneration when introducing his budget on 17 Feb. 1792 (Parl. Hist. xxix. 834). Whether it be true or not, as Buckle said, that the ‘Wealth of Nations’ was, ‘in its ultimate results, probably the most important that had ever been written’ (Hist. Civilisation, i. 214), it is probable that no book can be mentioned which so rapidly became an authority both with statesmen and philosophers.

Hume wrote a warm congratulation, with a judicious hint of criticism. His health was breaking, and Smith had intended to bring him from Edinburgh after the publication of his ‘Wealth of Nations.’ Hume, however, started by himself, and met Smith, on his way northwards, at Morpeth. Smith had to go on to Kirkcaldy to see his mother, who was ill. Hume committed the care of his posthumous publications to Smith, and especially desired him to guarantee the appearance of the ‘Dialogues on Natural Religion.’ Smith made difficulties, on the ground of the probable clamour and possible injury to his own prospects. He promised to preserve a copy of the book if entrusted to him; but different arrangements were finally made by Hume for the publication. Smith refused to receive a legacy of 200l. left to him by Hume, only, as he thought, in consideration of the performance of this task. Smith, however, promised Hume that he would correct the other works, and add to the autobiography an account of Hume's behaviour in his last illness. Smith was present at a final dinner which Hume gave to his friends in Edinburgh on 4 July 1776. The ‘Life,’ with the promised account of the illness in a letter to Strahan, was published in 1777. Smith spoke in the strongest terms of Hume's virtues, to the great offence of the orthodox. The letter appeared to be intended to show how one who was not a Christian could die. Smith probably did not appreciate its significance to others. He was attacked in a scurrilous ‘Letter to Adam Smith … by one of the people called Christians,’ i.e. George Horne [q. v.], afterwards bishop of Norwich. Of this he never took notice.

In January 1777 he was again in London, but returned to Kirkcaldy, and there received his appointment as commissioner of customs in December following. The appointment may have been due to the Duke of Buccleuch, or, as Mr. Rae (p. 320) thinks probable, to Lord North and Sir Grey Cooper, the secretary of the treasury, in recognition of the suggestions about taxes in the ‘Wealth of Nations.’ The appointment was 600l. a year, and the Duke of Buccleuch refused Smith's offer to resign the pension. Smith was therefore now well off, and took