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The Life of Adam Smith$

Ian Simpson Ross

Print publication date: 1995

Print ISBN-13: 9780198288213

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: November 2003

DOI: 10.1093/0198288212.001.0001

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A Respectable Auditory

A Respectable Auditory

(p.81) 6 A Respectable Auditory
The Life of Adam Smith

Ian Simpson Ross

Oxford University Press

Abstract and Keywords

In the aftermath of the ’45 Rising, the jurist and man of letters, Lord Kames, recruited Adam Smith to come to Edinburgh, Scotland's capital—notable for its superb views, historic buildings, and noisome streets— to deliver to young professionals, from 1748–51, freelance courses of lectures on rhetoric and criticism. Smith's course included a theory of communication, distinguishing between scientific discourse based on reason and the rhetorical kind meant to persuade by moving the passions. Another part of the course was devoted to the origin and progress of language, an example of the philosophical or natural type of history prevalent among the Scottish literati, which Smith adopted for all his works, moral, political, and literary.

Keywords:   criticism, communication, history, passions, rhetoric

innumerable witnesses . . . [of] lectures which I gave at Edinburgh

At Oxford, Adam Smith met dislike because the Scots at Balliol were thought to support the Hanoverian King. On his way north, we presume at the end of August 1746, it is entirely possible that he had to guard his identity because of hostility to the Scots as rebels. As a pamphlet entitled Old England appearing at the end of 1746 put the matter: ‘A Scot is a natural hereditary Jacobite, and incurable by acts of lenity, generosity, and friendly dealing’ (Lenman, 1980: 264).

Alexander Carlyle had been in London with the novelist, Tobias Smollett, the April night in 1746 when news arrived of the victory at Culloden of the Hanoverian troops under the Duke of Cumberland, George II's son, nicknamed ‘the Butcher’ because of his savagery in quelling the Jacobites. Carlyle remembered that he and Smollett were glad to go into a ‘Narrow Entry’ on their way home, to put their wigs in their pockets, and take their swords in their hands: ‘The Mob were so Riotous, and the Squibs so Numerous and Incessant’. Smollett advised him not to say a word, ‘Lest the Mob should discover my Country and become Insolent’. Carlyle thought John Bull that night was ‘as Haughty and Valiant . . . as a few Months ago he was abject and cowardly, on the Black Wednesday [4 December 1745] when the highlanders were at Derby’ (Carlyle, 1973: 98–9).

Smith would understand that the fury of the State directed at the unfortunate Jacobites by ‘Butcher’ Cumberland after Culloden, and the beheading of Lords Kilmarnock, Balmerino, and Lovat, also the hanging, drawing, and quartering of 116 unfortunates, as well as the transportation, death in prison, or disappearance of over 3,400 men, women, and children (Lenman, 1980: 271–5), was a similar sort of reaction after a severe fright. As for the initial success of the rising, he was to ascribe it to the ‘bad effect of commerce’ in sinking the courage of mankind:

In the year 1745 four or 5 thousand naked unarmed Highlanders took possession of the improved parts of this country without any opposition from the unwarlike inhabitants. They penetrated into England and alarmed the whole nation, and had they not been opposed by a standing army they would have seized the throne with little difficulty. (LJ(B) 331–2)

(p.82) Even the Campbell militia, which should have formed the heart of the resistance to the Jacobite clans at the outset of the rising, had been seriously weakened through the scattering of the tacksmen, its officer corps, as a result of the improving policies of ‘Red John of the Battles’ himself, the 2nd Duke of Argyll. He seems to have been more interested latterly in developing Adderbury and his other English estates, as well as collecting higher rents in Scotland, than in the socioeconomic transformation he caused in the Campbell lands by wanting his clansmen to lust for profit, not blood and booty (Cregeen, 1970).

When Smith reached Kirkcaldy, where he spent the next two years with his mother, he no doubt found that it had been as alarmed by the Jacobites as any part of Lowland Scotland. In the '15 it had been raided and looted, but in the '45 it escaped with the levying of tributes of £20 and £35. No local figure seems to have been a leader in the rising, but up the coast at Anstruther, a laird named Charles Wightman hid survivors from Culloden until his smuggling connections could get them over to France (House, 1975: 21; Thirkell, n.d.: 24).

Smith continued his studies, and possibly tried to secure an appointment as a private tutor, to follow the example of a relative, William Smith, who had been ‘Governor’ to the future 12th Earl of Errol in 1704, before becoming a regent at Marischal College (Scott, 1937: 398). It is also conceivable that he had hopes of becoming Francis Hutcheson's successor after the latter's death on 8 August 1746; but on 1 October Glasgow University appointed as Professor of Moral Philosophy Thomas Craigie, Professor of Hebrew at the University of St Andrews (Coutts, 1909: 220). At this period Smith is reported to have taken up sea‐bathing in the Firth of Forth, summer and winter, to avoid colds (EUL La. 451/2, fos. 429–30). However, immersion in salt water rather than imbibing tar‐water could have been another way of fighting hypochondriasis.

Bliadhna Thierlaich (Charlie's Year) ended when the Stuart Prince, leaving his followers to their fate, escaped from his hiding‐place in the heather and sailed for France on 20 September 1746. Once they were sure he was gone, the Hanoverian bluejackets and redcoats, with Scots among them, glutted themselves with killing, raping, pillaging, and burning in the Highlands and Hebrides. They then turned to longer‐term measures to pacify the region by disarming the inhabitants, to the extent that this was possible, and making them give up their native dress. More military roads were built in the north and strong points constructed, such as Fort George near Inverness, where the masonry contract was held by the Adam family. A deadlier blow at the old order of things in Scotland was the passing of the Heritable Jurisdictions (Scotland) Act of 1747. This emphasized that the justice of the Hanoverian regime was to be centrally administered in Edinburgh, by taking away legal powers from the great landed families, a change which affected the magnates of the Lowlands more than the Highland chiefs, whose power was patriarchal rather than feudal (Lenman, 1980: 277–80).

Smith interested himself in such issues of legal reorganization, and was to fit (p.83) them into lectures on jurisprudence, one course of which he gave in Edinburgh in 1750–1. From his later series delivered when he was a professor in Glasgow, we learn he adopted the framework of a four‐stage theory of forms of society, to identify the nature of social institutions such as justice systems, and account for changes in them. Each stage was characterized by the chief mode of subsistence: hunting and fishing, pastoralism, agriculture, and commerce. Britain of the era of the '45 rising provided Smith with a contrast between the Highlands of Scotland at the pastoral stage with a warrior society and patriarchal leaders, and the unwarlike Lowlands, similar to England, organized for agriculture and commerce, and having to rely on a professional army for defence. In LJ and subsequently in WN, he commented on the successful exercise of patriarchal judicial functions by one of the leaders of the '45 rising, Donald Cameron of Lochiel, chief of the Clan Cameron (LJ(A) i.129; WN III.iv.8). He also noted in LJ that the British Government was still so afraid of another rebellion in 1753 that Lochiel's brother, Dr Archibald Cameron, was put to death for alleged treason, when he probably would have been safe if he had kept out of the way for a few more years (LJ(A) ii.174, (B) 200).

Also in the aftermath of the '45 rising, leaders of Scottish society were stressing to the youth of the country the importance of that ‘polite and useful learning’ appropriate for gentlemen and necessary for the practice of their professions, also for attaching them to English culture. This was the theme of the discourse of Robert Dundas of Armiston on 1 November 1748, when he accepted in Edinburgh the congratulations of the Faculty of Advocates on his promotion as Lord President of the Court of Session, the supreme Bench in Scotland. He urged that, beyond learning thoroughly the principles of Roman law and the laws of nature and nations (an indication of his sense of the importance of the Grotius–Pufendorf tradition of natural law for Scottish lawyers), those wishing to become advocates, from whom in time sheriffs and judges would be drawn, ‘should take pains to acquire other Sciences and accomplishments becoming the character of Gentlemen, particularly not to neglect Academical learning, before they should apply themselves to study the municipal Laws of their Country’ (Macpherson, 1980: 225). In this connection, between 1748 and 1751, Adam Smith was invited to deliver public lectures in rhetoric, then the history of philosophy, and jurisprudence, in Edinburgh.

The Scottish capital derived its name from the mingling of Gaelic and Old English words which mean ‘town by the fort on the hill slope’. This draws attention to features of the site which make it one of the most striking cities in Europe. Its castle is situated on a crag formed by an old volcanic core, and there is dense urban development on a tail of glacial debris descending to the Palace of Holyrood near another and higher old volcano, Arthur's Seat. Historically, Edinburgh's function was to defend the south‐eastern approach to Scotland, and during the '45 Jacobite rising the castle had remained in Hanoverian hands, tying down insurgent forces and limiting their control of the country.

(p.84) The Old Town straddles the Royal Mile running from the castle to the palace. An upper section has the Castlehill and Lawnmarket. Then comes the High Street, along which were to be found in Smith's time the burgh kirk of St Giles, with its graceful crown spire (c.1500); the mercat cross from which proclamations were read; the grim Old Tolbooth—jail and administrative centre; a huddle of shops and shops named the Luckenbooths; and the seventeenth‐century Parliament House in which sat Scotland's supreme criminal and civil courts. The lower section, entered by the Netherbow Port, consisted of the separate burgh of the Canongate, where Smith lived from 1778, and where he is buried in the parish kirkyard, not far from Holyrood Palace.

The University, where Smith's friends James Oswald, Robert Adam, David Hume, William Robertson, Hugh Blair, Alexander Carlyle, and James Hutton had all been students, occupied undistinguished buildings, often contrasted unfavourably with the ‘neat college’ of Glasgow, on the Kirk o' Field site to the south of the High Street. The Royal Infirmary adjacent to the University was built by William Adam in Dutch Palladian style between 1738 and 1748. The friend of Smith's father, Dr John Clerk, practised there until 1757. Other notable public buildings that would be known to Smith from his teaching days in Edinburgh were, to the south, the Renaissance Heriot's School (1628–60); on or near the High Street, the guild halls of the Tailors (1621), Skinners (1643), and Candlemakers (1722), also the Surgeon's Hall (1697); and in the Canongate, the turreted Tolbooth from James VI's reign, and a pre‐Reformation kirk.

The parish of Edinburgh together with those of St Cuthbert's and the Canongate had in 1755 an estimated population of 47,570 (Campbell, 1992: 11). The élite of the kirk, legal, academic, and medical establishment, and many families of the gentry when in town lived in the courts, closes, and wynds made up by the lofty tenements or flatted blocks of the Old Town. Like many Writers to the Signet, for example, Adam Smith's father had lived in a close off the High Street, Old Provost's, for about seven years after the Union (Scott, 1937: 13). From the 1770s on, more and more of the élite were to move to the New Town, created as a more wholesome environment when building land between the existing city and its port of Leith was made accessible by the draining of the Nor' Loch which began in 1759 (Horn, 1967: 18; Youngson, 1966: 227–8; Gifford et al., 1988).

The prime mover in the scheme to bring Smith to Edinburgh as a lecturer in rhetoric was Henry Home of Kames, a leading advocate and keen agricultural improver, who was raised to the Bench in 1752 as Lord Kames. He had made a name for himself in his profession by collecting decisions of the Court of Session. Originally a supporter of the Stuart royal line, he switched to being a Whig in the 1730s, and attacked Jacobite political doctrines such as the theory of indefeasible right in Essays on Several Subjects concerning British Antiquities (1747). This was a pioneering attempt at the ‘philosophical history’ which Hume and Smith were to pursue. As Hume's neighbour and distant relation, he had given (p.85) that young man advice and help as he struggled to make his way in the world. Kames had strong interests in literature and criticism. In fact, he was to write a treatise based on the aesthetics of Hume and Adam Smith, Elements of Criticism (1762), which became a foundation document in its field. It is entirely in keeping with Kames's notions of affirming good taste as a badge of social cohesion that, under his patronage, a lecture series on rhetoric and belles‐lettres or criticism would be organized. Smith himself paid tribute later in his life to Kames's promotion of literary studies and the assistance he received, together with Hume and others who achieved fame. This came as a response to a remark about the number of outstanding writers that contemporary Scotland produced. Smith said: ‘We must every one of us acknowledge Kames for our master’ (Tytler, 1807: i.160; Ross, 1972: 31–3, 51–4, 90–1).

About 1748 Kames was taking over from Sir John Clerk of Penicuik, friend of Adam Smith's father, a leading role in the Philosophical Society of Edinburgh. Originally a medical research group, whose members included Dr John Clerk, it had expanded in 1737 at the prompting of Colin Maclaurin to deal with scientific knowledge generally and Scottish antiquities, also improvement in agriculture, manufactures, and technology (Emerson, 1979a). Dr Clerk became a Vice‐President, as did his cousin, Sir John Clerk, who contributed papers on mining and his patriotic antiquarian pursuits. The Society languished during the '45, but three years later it was showing signs of life, and shortly after that Kames had replaced Sir John Clerk as Vice‐President, and David Hume became one of the Secretaries (Emerson, 1981).

The suggestion has been made, with something of this background in mind, that the Philosophical Society sponsored Smith's rhetoric lectures (Scott, 1937: 49–50). Though no evidence has come to light about this, Kames would be a likely person to make this one of his new initiatives for the Society. Further, there was a precedent in that, from 1720 to 1758, John Ward lectured successfully on rhetoric at Gresham College (Howell, 1971: 87–120), long associated with the Royal Society of London, which the Philosophical Society of Edinburgh wished to emulate. It is well known that the Royal Society advocated a ‘close, naked, natural way of speaking, positive expressions, clear senses, a native easiness, bringing all things as near the Mathematical plainness’ as possible, and rejected ‘all amplifications, digressions, and swellings of style’ (Sprat, 1667/1958). Smith taught exactly a New Rhetoric of this kind, in keeping with New Science of Newton, which the Philosophical Society also wished to master and debate. His auditors could also find in Smith, from his years of being at Oxford, someone with a command of the received standard southern English. Scots were anxious to acquire this skill, to get on in an imperial world administered from London (Edinburgh Review, 1755: 1, p. iii; Gentleman's Magazine, 1790, 1x. 762).

Concerning recommenders of Smith to Kames, or other patrons, two names have been suggested (Scott, 1937: 46). One was James Oswald of Dunnikier, (p.86) already mentioned as Smith's boyhood friend in Kirkcaldy, and by 1748 an MP for Fife, with service as a Commissioner of the Navy behind him, and a ministerial career ahead of him as a lord of Trade and then of Treasury. Horace Walpole considered him one of the thirty best speakers in the House of Commons, where he made economic issues a specialty (HP iii.237–9). The other was Robert Craigie of Glendoick, who had been Lord Advocate during the '45 rising and was later to become Lord President of the Court of Session, 1754–60. His daughter Cecilia was married to Smith's cousin, Colonel Robert Douglas of Strathenry. Smith took their youngest son David (b. 1769) into his household as a young boy, and made him his heir.

No advertisement of Smith's series has been discovered in the Edinburgh newspapers for the period, but clearly there was a good deal of activity in the form of public lectures directly competing with those at Edinburgh University. This was a facet of life in the capital city of his country which must have pleased the young man disgusted with the lethargy of the Oxford professors and the lack of attention there to the needs of students. For example, the press advertised that Smith's friend, Professor Matthew Stuart, would begin his lectures on mathematics at the University on 25 November 1748. Meanwhile, Ebenezer Macfait, MD, proposed to give a course on the system of ancient and modern geometry at his own lodgings, commencing on 8 November. The public lectures were held in a variety of places in addition to a lecturer's lodgings: the Concert‐Hall in the Canongate, the Society‐Hall in Warriston's Close, Gibb's Meeting‐House in Bristo‐street, and so on. For a course on experimental philosophy, Dr Demainbury charged two guineas for the series of twelve lectures, or one shilling to be paid at the door of the ‘Lecture Room at Mrs Baillie's lodgings . . . in the Flesh Market’ (Caledonian Mercury, Oct., Nov. 1748).

We do not know where Smith's lectures were given, though one possibility is the Edinburgh masonic meeting‐place, Mary's Chapel, off the High Street, which was demolished to make way for the South Bridge project in 1786. We hear of a lecture being given there on the ‘Scottish language’ on 15 March (1776), to counterbalance all the attention given in Edinburgh to the English language by Smith and his successors (Crawford, 1992: 24). We do know that Smith's lectures were a financial success, perhaps bringing in the customary guinea per person for the year's series (Rae, 1965: 32). David Hume wrote to Smith on 8 June 1758: ‘You made above 100 Pound a Year by your Class when in this Place [Edinburgh], tho’ you had not the character of a Professor. . . . John Stevenson . . . makes near 150' (Corr. No. 25). Hume is referring to the popular Professor of Logic at the University, who lectured on Aristotle's Poetics and the treatise On the Sublime, illustrating his remarks by readings from Dryden's criticism and the Spectator papers on taste (Mossner, 1980: 42).

Smith would welcome the spur of emulation to do well in the academic free market of Edinburgh, if we can take him at his own words: ‘the rivalship of competitors, who are all endeavouring to justle one another out of employment, (p.87) obliges every man to endeavour to execute his work with a certain degree of exactness’ (WN V.i.f.4). His success, too, meant that he could resign his Snell Exhibition, which he did on 4 February 1749 (Corr. No. 7). An inheritance also made his situation easier. His half‐brother Hugh died the next year intestate, and their father's will gave Adam Smith rights to some property in Aberdeen, the tenement of foreland, where there was a timber shop, on the west side of the Castlegate, opposite the Town House. Smith did not enjoy for very long the modest income from what became a valuable piece of land (site of the Athenaeum Hotel in the 1930s), because he sold it to a family member for £115 in 1757 (Aberdeen City Archives, Register of Sasines: B 1/1/62; GUL MS Gen. 1035/218; Scott, 1937: 135–6, 409).

Some details of attendance at Smith's course on rhetoric is provided by Kames's biographer. This was Alexander Fraser Tytler (later known as Lord Woodhouselee), who became Secretary of the Royal Society of Edinburgh. Woodhouselee wrote that the course was delivered at Edinburgh in 1748 and the following two years, ‘to a respectable auditory, chiefly composed of students in law and theology’. He then listed auditors with a legal background. One was Smith's friend James Oswald, who was admitted advocate in 1738 and, as we have seen, was well on in his career as an MP. Yet another advocate was Alexander Wedderburn, who came to be on terms of warm friendship with Smith, Hume, and others of the literati, then qualified for the English Bar, and rose to be Lord Chancellor Loughborough. A third was William Johnstone, whom Smith described to Oswald in January 1752 as someone he had ‘known intimately these four years’ (Corr. No. 11). He married a rich heiress, took her name, and as Sir William Pulteney had a successful career in Parliament. A fourth was John Millar, who later studied under Smith at Glasgow, acted for two years as tutor to Kames's son, George Home Drummond, and became a noted Professor of Law at Glasgow. Millar's early years are not fully documented, but there is mention of him training as a Writer to Signet for a period; and possibly when he was in Edinburgh in this connection, he attended a first course by Smith (Craig, 1806: p. iv). Woodhouselee did mention one minister by name, Hugh Blair, who then supplied the second charge at the Canongate kirk. He had been a student at Edinburgh University, where Professor John Stevenson was greatly impressed by his youthful ‘Essay on the Beautiful’ (Tytler, 1807: i.190; Anderson, 1863: i.323).

It is much to be regretted that we do not have an auditor's report of Smith's rhetoric lectures at Edinburgh. There is one way round this difficulty. Smith went to Glasgow in October 1751 to assume his duties as Professor of Logic and take over some of those of Craigie, the Professor of Moral Philosophy. He apparently fell back on the rhetoric material presented at Edinburgh for his logic lectures, and he continued to teach this same rhetoric course, without much alteration, in his private class when he became Professor of Moral Philosophy in April 1752.

(p.88) A set of these Glasgow rhetoric lectures was heard by James Wodrow, a former student of Francis Hutcheson, who was Library Keeper at Glasgow University until 1755, when he became the minister of Dunlop in Ayrshire. Wodrow's first assessment of Smith's rhetoric lectures in the 1750s was low, as will be discussed in Chapter 9. However, when Wodrow wrote again about the course late in life, in 1808, he summarized it in a much more favourable light, and he gives us an idea of what Smith presented to his Edinburgh auditors and did not have time, or perhaps inclination, to change when he moved to Glasgow:

Adam Smith delivered a set of admirable lectures on language (not as a grammarian but as a rhetorician) on the different kinds or characteristics of style suited to different subjects, simple, nervous, etc., the structure, the natural order, the proper arrangement of the different members of the sentence etc. He characterised the style and genius of some of the best of the ancient writers and poets, but especially historians, Thucydides, Polybius etc. translating long passages of them, also the style of the best English classics, Lord Clarendon, Addison, Swift, Pope, etc; . . . his remarks and rules given in the lectures I speak of, were the result of a fine taste and sound judgement, well calculated to be exceedingly useful to young composers, so that I have often regretted that some part of them has never been published. (GUL Murray Coll., Buchan Corr. ii.171)

In addition to what he heard in Edinburgh, John Millar apparently attended in 1751–2 the rhetoric course Smith gave as Professor of Logic at Glasgow. He wrote of his teacher delivering at Glasgow a ‘system’ of the subject organized in two divisions. The first examined the ‘several ways of communicating our thoughts by speech’; and the second dealt with the ‘principles of those literary compositions which contribute to persuasion or entertainment’ (Stewart i.16). A student‐reported version of the course given at Glasgow in 1762–3 lacks an opening lecture, but the remaining twenty‐nine fall into the two divisions identified by Millar (LRBL).

We can conjecture that Smith opened his course by rejecting traditional rhetoric's piecemeal approach and complex analysis emphasizing figures of speech. Smith considered the old sources as ‘generally a very silly set of books and not at all instructive’ (LRBL i.V.59). Fitting in with the New Philosophy of Locke and the New Science of Newton, Smith offered a New Rhetoric that provides a general theory of the major kinds of expression: descriptive and narrative, as in history; poetical; didactic or scientific; and persuasive.1 Going on the Glasgow model, it seems that approximately one‐third of the course was devoted to language and style or, more broadly, aspects of communication (Lectures 2–11), and two‐thirds to the several forms of expression with reference to their function (12–30).

The second lecture stresses the importance of perspicuity or transparency of style gained through adopting the standard, received English of the court, that is, the southern dialect as spoken and written by the gentlemen and ladies of the highest government circles. The goal of the effective communication of thought and sentiment in this variety of English is achieved, so Smith emphasizes in this (p.89) second lecture (and later in Nos. 6, 7, 11 of this part of the course) by the plain style. This is created by adopting the ‘naturall order of expression free of parentheses and superfluous words’ (LRBL i.9–10). Jonathan Swift is presented as the best exponent of this style, and his success as a writer is attributed to mastery of his subjects, skill in arranging their parts, and vivacity of expression (i.106). Smith appreciated that Swift was widely read for his humour, but he reckoned that few in Scotland (‘this country’) understood his real worth. His Anglican religious sentiments were against him, also ‘he never has such warm exclamations for civill or religious liberty as are now generally in fashion’. The attitudes of the plain man which Smith discerned in Swift led him to express himself in satire: ‘ridiculing some prevailing vice or folly or exposing some particular character’. He did not value ‘abstract and Speculative reasoning’, which Smith says have recently been favoured by men of genius in Scotland (i.101–2).

Smith's case, however, is that the Scots should learn from Swift's command of the plain style. Most are aware, so Smith thinks, that the language they speak is far from ‘perfection’, that is, standard southern English. Accordingly, they value the style that is furthest away from what they commonly use. In consequence, Shaftesbury is universally admired because he ‘keeps a vast distance’ from everyday language. Smith considers this admiration completely misplaced, and proceeds to contrast Swift and Shaftesbury, indicating that the latter is the exponent of an outmoded style, relying too much on allegory and metaphor—the tropes and figures of speech of the Old Rhetoric. Smith thus insinuates that Swift provides the model to be followed for the New Rhetoric, as the ‘plainest, as well as the most proper and precise of all the English writers’ (i.103–4).

Smith's Edinburgh auditors would understand that he was not hostile to Shaftesbury's project of overturning the ‘Old Systems of Religion and Philosophy’ and establishing something new in their place, a task Hobbes had failed to accomplish. Smith's mentor Hutcheson, who is not mentioned in the 1762–3 rhetoric lectures, had carried forward this task, but he too tended to write in a fulsome style, and Smith's strong attack on this must have caused some excitement among those taught to have a high regard for Shaftesbury and Hutcheson. Smith, to be sure, practised what he preached, and his compositions at their best are pithy and exact in language, matching Swift in epigrammatic force.

In exposing Shaftesbury's tendency to prolixity, Smith sees a defect that is incident to the historical development of English. He brings this out in the third lecture of the first part of the rhetoric course, which is devoted to the ‘origin and progress of language’. His approach here became a favourite one, as Dugald Stewart pointed out in commenting on an expanded version of the lecture. This version was published first in The Philological Miscellany (1761), and later as an appendix to the third (1767) and subsequent editions of TMS, bearing the title, Considerations concerning the first formation of Languages, and the different genius of original and compounded Languages. Stewart names the kind of inquiry (p.90) represented ‘Theoretical or Conjectural History’, a variant of Smith's own term ‘philosophical history’.

Something similar, according to Stewart, is to be found in all Smith's various works, ‘moral, political, or literary’. The procedure involved is a simple one:

In examining the history of mankind, as well as in examining the phenomena of the natural world, when we cannot trace the process by which an event has been produced, it is often of importance to be able to show how it may have been produced by natural causes. (Stewart ii.44–8)

Thus, the first part of Smith's third lecture (i.17–i.V.30) deals with conjecture or theory about the primitive formation of a jargon by savages. Ancient languages are depicted as emerging from the jargon stage with features such as word classes, inflection to indicate grammatical function, and parts of speech. This happened gradually and unintentionally by a process of comparison, abstraction, and ‘love of analogy’, limited by the capacity of the human memory. The brief second part of the lecture (i.V.31–4) has more to do with stylistics than the first. It deals with the historical mingling of peoples, and how grammatical structure changed, under compulsions to effect communication. Complex schemes of inflection were amended or dropped to produce compound or analytic languages, such as modern English, as contrasted with the original or synthetic languages such as Greek and the Old English tongue. Smith and one of his forerunners, Abbé Girard, seem to have been the first commentators on language development to make this important distinction in typology (Coseriu, 1970; Aarsleff, 1982: 349, n. 29).

Smith turns to the machine, as he often does seeking explanatory help when describing systems, to provide an analogy for the ‘progress of language’. Original languages have the vast complexity of primitive machines, and both become simpler when gradually the ‘different parts are more connected and supplied by one another’. But whereas simpler machines are better, this is not the case with languages. The simpler, compound languages have less variety and harmony of sound, according to Smith, and are less capable of various arrangements; also they are more prolix (i.V.34). Smith then fits this point into his general advocacy of the plain style as the best way to control the prolixity of English.

In one of his letters (No. 69, dated 7 February 1763), Smith relates that it was reading Les vrais principes de la langue française (1747) by the Abbé Gabriel Girard (Mizuta) ‘which first set me thinking upon these subjects’. He means, presumably, that Girard's book set him theorizing about the deep past of languages in a naturalistic fashion, and linking his account of language typology to revolutions in cognition and society. The same conceptual themes are present in his writings about science, morals, and economics (Christie, 1987; Plank, 1992).

His first Edinburgh audience must have been greatly stimulated by the insights afforded by the methodology Smith adopted in the instance of the lecture on language, which was also to be found applied to law and government in (p.91) Montesquieu's Considérations sur les causes de la grandeur des Romains et de leur décadence (1734) as well as L'Esprit des lois (1748). Roger Emerson (1984) has pointed out that well‐read auditors would recognize that Smith's approach can be linked to the history of language found in the Bible; to classical accounts of humanity's acquisition of arts and sciences, as in book V of De natura rerum by Lucretius; to Locke's ‘plain historical method’ of ascertaining the extent of human knowledge; and to comparative studies from the Renaissance onwards, associating travellers' discoveries about aboriginal cultures with phases of classical and modern history. As Stewart illustrates, some of Smith's auditors adopted this methodology of ‘philosophical history’ for their own enquiries into social and institutional change. For example, Kames used it in a developed fashion in his Historical Law‐Tracts (1758), though he had anticipated elements of it in his Essays on . . . British Antiquities (1747). Millar takes it up in The Origin and Distinction of Ranks (1771) and An Historical View of the English Government (1787). There was also the example of Hume's Natural History of Religion (1757). In fact, ‘philosophical’ or ‘natural’ history became something of a staple of the contributors to the Scottish Enlightenment (Stewart ii.44–52). To be sure, David Raphael (1985: 105–7) has cautioned that Dugald Stewart's term ‘conjectural history’ is a misnomer, and does not describe the procedure of Smith's own History of Astronomy discussed below in Chapter 7.

Smith's Edinburgh auditors with their interests in history, ‘philosophical’ or actual, were well served by the second part of the rhetoric lectures dealing with composition. The evidence we have suggests that he gave prominence to historical writing when he discussed narrative, or relation of facts, as the first form of discourse worthy of attention. The other two forms he chose were didactic discourse, in his view required when a proposition had to be proved by putting forward two sides of a question for an audience to choose between on grounds of fact and logic; and rhetorical or oratorical discourse, required when proof is effected by praising one side and discrediting the other. Didactic discourse aims at conviction, while the rhetorical kind seeks to persuade (LRBL i.149).

In dealing with historical discourse, Smith offered a history of historians which gave him an opportunity to assess success or failure in achieving what he considered the ‘design’ of history:

It sets before us the more interesting and important events of human life, points out the causes by which these events were brought about and by this means points out to us by what manner and method we may produce similar good effects or avoid Similar bad ones. (ii.16–17)

Smith is innovative in drawing attention to Thucydides' outstanding command of this kind of design in history (ii.50). At least, Arnaldo Momigliano (1990: 49) states that the rise of the Greek historian's reputation did not begin until the second half of the eighteenth century, and he ascribes to the Abbé de Mably (De la manière d'écrire l'histoire, 1784: 125) and the writers of the Romantic (p.92) movements the elevation of Thucydides to the position of ‘model philosophic historian’. Equally perceptive and advanced, it seems, is Smith's praise of Tacitus for his psychological penetration (Phillips, 1993). Continuing his account of the field, Smith's finding is that ‘of all Modern Historians [Machiavelli is] the only one who has contented himself with the chief purpose of History, to relate Events and connect them with their causes without becoming a party on either side’ (ii.71). As for recent history, Smith comes down only as far as Rapin‐Thoyras' Histoire d'Angleterre (1724), which suggests that the material in the 1762–3 rhetoric course, indeed, goes back to his Edinburgh period, since otherwise the omission of references to Voltaire, Hume, and Robertson is very strange (Mossner, 1965).

Smith is prescient in these lectures about what the Scots had to learn or were learning about the goal of design and impartiality in writing history, and the need to deal with psychology as well as causation, in a well‐controlled style such as Livy exemplified. His teaching and advocacy of examples were persuasive. Gibbon, unrivalled historian of the fall of the Roman Empire, understood well the classical models his Scottish contemporaries aimed at, and he hailed Hume as le Tacite et le Tite Live de l'Écosse (1956, ii.107). Twenty years after Smith's lectures in Edinburgh, Hume joked about the widespread interest in his country in history‐writing. In August 1770 he wrote to William Strahan, his publisher (and Smith's): ‘this is the historical Age and this the historical Nation’, since he knew of eight histories currently on the stocks in Scotland (HL ii.230).

Dealing further, in the second division of his course, with the principles of literary compositions, Smith passes in Lecture 17 to the ‘Oratoricall’ or ‘Rhetoricall’ style. The branches covered by Smith represent a creative adaptation of the three main genres of classical oratory as outlined, for example, in one of his major sources, Quintilian's Institutio Oratoria (Mizuta). These are judicial, deliberative (political), and epideictic oratory (panegyric). Smith begins with the last genre, whose real aim he thinks is to display the skill of the orator. We find here, perhaps, the seeds of TMS in that Smith discusses what is praiseworthy and blameworthy in conduct and motivation. He uses the Stoic scheme of virtues such as fortitude which commands respect, distinguished from amiable ones such as humanity, and likewise the vices we despise distinguished from those we detest (ii.102–3).

Historical considerations enter in, as Smith notes that poetic panegyric was ‘very long in use’ before prose examples appeared. Smith claims, indeed, that prose expression developed with the introduction of commerce or, at least opulence, whereas ‘Poetry is cultivated in the most Rude and Barbarous nations’ (ii.112–13). This argument is part of the primitivism of Smith's time, but it also reflects his interest in a stadial view of economic life and its links with culture, a feature of his thinking about jurisprudence.

Breaking off from persuasive expression at this point in the Glasgow course (we do not know if he followed the same sequence in Edinburgh), Smith turns (p.93) in Lecture 24 to didactic composition, meant to win conviction for a philosophical proposition, or to ‘Deliver a System of any Science e.g. Naturall Philosophy’ (ii.130). An Edinburgh audience of young professional men would find Smith's thoughts here of practical account. They are also a guide to his own procedures as a teacher and a fashioner of systems. For once, he has a good word to say of Shaftesbury, observing that his Inquiry concerning Virtue (1699, 1711) adopts the perfect method of laying down the proposition to be proved, and then showing how its truth depends on several subordinate propositions, which are each proved in turn before the whole argument is summed up (ii.126).

Concerning the delivery of a system, Smith distinguishes between what he calls the Newtonian method and what he associates with Aristotle. The latter consists of going over the different branches of a science in the order in which they come, and establishing a new principle for every phenomenon. The first is ‘undoubtedly’ more philosophical, for it consists of laying down ‘certain principles known or proved in the beginning, from when we account for the severall Phaenomena, connecting all together by the same Chain’. Smith continues that ‘it gives us a pleasure to see the phenomena which we reckoned the most unaccountable all deduced from some principle (commonly a wellknown) and all united in one chain’ (ii.133–4).

Smith in his rhetoric lectures had already demonstrated the efficacy of this socalled Newtonian method, which has an ancestry going back at least to Plato's time, in dealing with language. Its ‘progress’ he had ingeniously and convincingly attributed in the main to the operation of the commonly recognized principle of abstraction.

He tackled in another lecture series, which some evidence suggests was first given in Edinburgh, then repeated at Glasgow, the principles that ‘lead and direct philosophical [or scientific] enquiries’ (part of the full title of the History of Astronomy, EPS).

In due course he was to deliver at Glasgow a system of morals based on the operation of the principle of sympathy (TMS), then a system of economics hinging on the force of self‐love promoting the division of labour to create wealth (WN). To be sure, he has been accused of moving from didactic to rhetorical composition in this second book when dealing with pressing political issues (Muller, 1993: 55).

Death overtook him before he could complete to his satisfaction ‘two other great works’, each involving theory and history, on which he was still working in 1785, but whose seeds seem to lie in the Edinburgh lectures courses. One of these works covered law and government, and the other ‘all the different branches of Literature, of Philosophy, Poetry and Eloquence’ (Corr. No. 248). Thus fruitful in his hands was the ‘Newtonian method’, which gave pleasure from yielding the opportunity to see phenomena deduced from a well‐known principle and ‘all united in one chain’.

The claim that Smith produced a New Rhetoric has been denounced as ‘excessive’ (Vickers, 1971). And his insistence on taking the master‐works of English (p.94) literature as guides to composition and style has been criticized for its ‘anglocentrism’ (Crawford, 1992: 28–33). Further, his advocacy of Swift's plain style as a model to be followed for the clear communication of ideas has been questioned in the light of the notorious difficulties of Swift's critics in interpreting his irony. Also, a discrepancy has been detected between Smith's denunciation of figurative language and his own practice as a stylist in the rhetoric lectures themselves. The conclusion has been drawn that LRBL does not illustrate the theory Smith advances about effective communication of ideas through transparent, direct language (Brown, 1994: 15–18).

Some forcefulness should be allowed, however, in stating what Smith achieved as a teacher of rhetoric. He clearly made good use of his extensive reading at Oxford, and subsequently in Kirkcaldy, to offer a new and fruitful way of dealing with a subject that had become discredited but should be part of a liberal education. He allows a role for figures of speech when they are the ‘just and naturall forms’ of expression, and he created or revived memorable examples, such as the ‘invisible hand’ of TMS and WN. Whatever problems twentieth‐century critics have with Swift's irony, Smith's advocacy of the Swiftian plain style for communicating meaning in pithy, idiomatic English was well directed. The new philosophical movement in Scotland had produced prolix writing inspired by Shaftesbury.2 Also, he had true insight in suggesting that the mechanism of sympathy has a role in the natural use of figurative language to express feeling (LRBL i.V.56), an important anticipation of the role he allots the mechanism of sympathy in ethics. Besides renewing rhetoric in this way, he expanded its range to include poetics and dialectic (Lectures 21, 24).

The charge of betraying Scottish culture so that English political ends would be served seems wide of the mark. Smith's aim was that of the Enlightenment: to create a cosmopolitan culture, fed from the classics and the modern languages and literatures of Europe, and from what could be learned from the cultures, including aboriginal ones, of other continents. This is the real significance of the ‘philosophical’ histories, such as the one devoted to the ‘origin and progress of language’. Something along these lines was surely enough of a lesson for the young lecturer to give to his auditors in Edinburgh and later to his Glasgow students.

Besides teaching students at Glasgow, Smith helped to found there a Literary Society, as we are told in the archives of the brothers Robert and Andrew Foulis, who enjoyed the patronage of the University in supervising a celebrated press and art academy when Smith was a Professor at Glasgow. We are also told that for this Society, Smith read ‘papers . . . on Taste, Composition and the History of Philosophy which he had previously delivered while a lecturer on rhetoric at Edinburgh’ (Duncan, 1831: 16). This suggests that, in addition to dealing with the principles of literary compositions, Smith expounded in some form at Edinburgh his theory of what constituted ‘taste’ or, in modern terms, aesthetics. We know that it was a psychological theory, focused on the wonder and (p.95) admiration we feel at finding art forms imitating objects of very different kinds. He was still working on this theory in the 1785, for one of the ‘great books’, already mentioned, which his literary executors, Joseph Black and James Hutton, described in the Advertisement to EPS as a ‘connected history of the liberal sciences and elegant arts’. Thus it fell out that, as late as 1788, he read a paper on the Imitative Arts to the Glasgow Literary Society (GUL MS Gen. 1035/178). In EPS we have materials for this piece, to be discussed in Chapter 22 below.

In connection with aesthetics, Smith conducted the kind of psychological analysis which is characteristic of his all system‐building projects. More would be aimed at, however, in the Edinburgh course on rhetoric and belles‐lettres than the formation in the auditors of correct English pronunciation and expression, and outlining for them a mimetic or representation theory of art. There was also the issue of the endowment of taste. The inspirer of Smith's procedure would appear to be Charles Rollin, the French rhetorician, whose approach to teaching literature can be linked to the way in which Smith was educated under David Miller at Kirkcaldy burgh school.3

Rollin's Method of Teaching and Studying the Belles Lettres stressed the value of translating the most beautiful passages as the ‘surest way’ of forming taste, a procedure Smith had followed at Oxford in self‐directed translation exercises, particularly from French. Those following this practice, according to Rollin, ‘become acquainted with their authors, and insensibly conceive their height of fancy, manner of writing, and way of thinking’. Rollin made a more general claim, of course, that taste ‘is a kind of natural reason wrought up to perfection by study’, and that though good taste may be formed by literary studies, most appropriately at the outset of life, ‘it is not confined to literature; it takes in also . . . all arts and sciences, and branches of knowledge’ (Rollin, 1759: i.61). Smith, of course, believed that taste was exercised in creating systems of politics and economics.

Secure in sharing such views, and pleased with Smith's success in advancing them in his lecture series at Edinburgh, when the latter departed for Glasgow Kames found a successor in a young minister Robert Watson, afterwards the historian of the reign of Philip II of Spain. When Watson in turn went on to become Professor of Logic at St Andrews in 1756, where he gave lectures on rhetoric, Hugh Blair was prevailed on by Kames to give lectures on belles‐lettres at Edinburgh. Blair's ability as a preacher had brought him the position of first minister of the High Kirk of St Giles in 1758. The following year, on 11 December, he began a course on rhetoric and belles‐lettres at Edinburgh University, receiving the title of Professor in 1760. Success in the subject Smith had pioneered led to Blair's appointment to a new Regius Chair on 7 April 1762, in effect the first professorship ever in English Literature, which was the staple of Blair's teaching. When he published his lectures in 1783, he acknowledged a debt of long standing to the work of his predecessor and friend:

of the General Characters of style, particularly, the Plain and the Simple, and the characters of the English authors who are classed under them, in this, and the following (p.96) Lecture, several ideas have been taken from a manuscript treatise on rhetoric, part of which was shown to me, many years ago by the learned and ingenious Author, Dr Adam Smith. (Blair, 1812: ii.22 n.)

As we shall see, Smith was concerned about theft from his jurisprudence lectures. However, he does not seem to have been concerned, or so it was alleged, about plagiarism of ideas in the rhetoric lectures by Blair. Henry Mackenzie, a member of Smith's circle later in his life, told him that Blair had made use of his ideas in sermons, but he replied: He is very welcome, there is enough left' (Clayden, 1887: 167; Hatch, 1994).

About the time of delivering his Edinburgh courses, Smith was drawn into his first publication enterprise, which indicates that he was relied on in his circle for the literary taste revealed to the public in his rhetoric lectures. He was asked to provide an unsigned preface for an octavo volume of pieces by the Jacobite poet William Hamilton, to be issued in his absence in exile. Hamilton became laird of Bangour, and is usually known by that title to distinguish him from another poet of the same name, William Hamilton of Gilbertfield. The work in question is Poems on Several Occasions, printed by Robert and Andrew Foulis at Glasgow, where the preface is dated 21 December 1748 (EPS 259–62).

Hamilton was pardoned for his part in the '45 rising in 1750, and returned to Scotland from his exile for two years before being forced back to the Continent by the onset of consumption. During this time he spent ‘many happy and many flattering hours’ with Smith and William Crawford, a Glasgow merchant to whom Hamilton entrusted MSS of his poems, and whose granddaughter, Elizabeth Dalrymple, he took as his second wife. We owe this piece of information to the lawyer and historian John Dalrymple, the poet's brother‐in‐law, who succeeded to the baronetcy of Cranstoun. He wrote to the printer Robert Foulis on 1 December 1757 about a second edition of Hamilton's poems, appearing in 1758, expressing the thought that none was so able as Smith to write its dedication to William Crawford. Dalrymple went on to say that Smith's association with Hamilton and Crawford made him think that ‘[Smith] will account his usual indolence a crime upon this occasion’ (Duncan, 1831: 23–4). This ‘usual indolence’ ascribed to Smith is perhaps the ‘laziness’ he charged himself with in Oxford, to be linked to his hypochondriasis.

Hamilton's poetry reflected a broad range of literary culture, from an imitation ballad in Scots such as ‘The Braes of Yarrow’, which proved attractive to Wordsworth, to ‘imitations’ or free adaptations of Pindar, Anacreon, Sophocles, Virgil, Horace, Shakespeare, and Racine, and the first rendering into English blank verse of a passage from Homer, the Glaucus and Diomed episode from the sixth book of the Iliad. Kames, as an early and intimate friend of Hamilton, possibly suggested Smith should write the Preface. His interest and that of the Glasgow merchant, William Crawford, in such work suggests the taste of the society from which was drawn the ‘respectable auditory’ that heard Smith lecture on rhetoric and belles‐lettres.


(1.) Fénelon had led a movement for a New Rhetoric in France based on the ‘finest precepts of Aristotle, Cicero, Quintilian, Lucian, Longinus and other famous authors’, in a work known in Britain in William Stevenson's translation, Dialogues concerning Eloquence (1722); the case for Adam Smith's New Rhetoric is presented by Howell (1971: 536–76); there was a movement towards teaching a New Rhetoric and belles‐lettres in the contemporary English Dissenting academies—Philip Doddridge lecturing at Northampton, 1730–51, emphasized ‘plain speaking’ and ‘plain diverting history’, but it seems there was no separate course on belles‐lettres until Dr Andrew Kippis gave one in 1765: Peter Jones (1), ‘The Polite Academy and the Presbyterians, 1720–1770’, in Dwyer et al. (1982: 159–71).

(2.) In criticizing Shaftesbury's florid style, Smith is also attacking those in Scotland who seem to have imitated it, e.g. George Turnbull, David Fordyce, and the younger Thomas Blackwell at Aberdeen, William Wishart at Edinburgh, and even Hutcheson himself—this is probably what lies behind James Wodrow's resentment that Smith dared to criticize his old teacher (Ch. 9 below): see Stewart (1987a) and Wood (1990).

(3.) ‘Speeches’ in the Rollin tradition but composed in English by Miller's pupils in Kirkcaldy c.1749–50 have survived: Maruzen 1990 Bicentenary Catalogue, Adam Smith: No. 1, illus. p. 3; Smith owned a copy of Rollin's edition of the Institutio Oratoria by Quintilian (Mizuta).