1789 Chapter 30

Visit of Samuel Rodgers

September 8, 2015

Samuel Rogers was the author of the Pleasures of Memory. He went to Scotland to make its ‘home tour’. It was then much in vogue.

He brought with him letters of introduction to Smith from Dr. Price and Dr. Kippis. Dr. Kippis was the editor of the Biographia Britannica. Rogers, a poet, was then 23. He had only published his Ode to Superstition. His father’s old Unitarian friends were his only chief acquaintances in the world of letters. Smith makes a disparaging allusion to them in his previous letter to Price. They won for Rogers= the kindest possible reception, and even a continuous succession of civilities. He has left a grateful record of them in his tour’s journal. This journal has been published in Mr. Clayden’s Early Tears of Samuel Rogers A few additional particulars omitted in it are found in Dyce’s published and Mitford’s unpublished recollections of Rogers’s table-talk.

Rogers arrived in Edinburgh apparently on July 14, 1789. That date was momentous as it set the world aflame. Though no information had reached Edinburgh before he left the city on the 21st. On the morning of the 15th, he walked down Panmure Close and first visited Smith. He found Smith sitting at breakfast alone, with a dish of strawberries before him. He has preserved some [Pg 417]scraps of the conversation, none of them remarkable. Smith said= that fruit was his favourite diet at that season of the year, and that Scotland produced excellent strawberries. For the strawberry= was a northern fruit, and was at its best in Orkney or Sweden. Passing to the subject of Rogers’s tour, he said= that Edinburgh deserved little notice, that the old town had given Scotland a bad name presumably, for its filth and that he himself was anxious to move to the newer quarters of the town. He had set his heart on George Square. It was= where Walter Scott was brought up and where Henry Dundas died. He explained that Edinburgh was entirely supported by the three Courts of Session, Exchequer, and Justiciary. This is possibly to account for the place’s filth. It was in accordance with his theory that there was always more squalor and misery in a residential than in an industrial town. He praised Loch Lomond highly, while he was apparently slighting or ignoring all of Edinburgh’s beauties. They were all there then as they are now. It was the finest lake in Great Britain. Its islands= were very beautiful and formed a very striking contrast to the shores. The conversation passed from Scotland’s scenery to its soil. Smith said= Scotland had an excellent soil. But its climate was so severe that its harvests were too often overtaken by winter before they were housed. The consequence was that the Scotch on the Borders were still in extreme poverty, just as he had noticed 50 years before when he rode across the Borders as an Oxford student. He was greatly struck with the different condition of things he saw as he approached Carlisle. From agriculture they passed on to discuss the corn trade. Smith denounced the Government’s recent refusal of corn to France. He said it should excite indignation and contempt, inasmuch as the quantity required was so trifling that it would not support Edinburgh’s population for a single day. Edinburgh’s population suggested their houses. Smith said that the houses were piled high on [Pg 418]one another in Paris as well as in Edinburgh. They then touched on Sir John Sinclair. Smith spoke of him disparagingly in certain aspects. But he said that he never knew a man who was in earnest and did not do something at last. Before returning to his hotel, Rogers seems to have asked Smith if he knew Mrs. Piozzi. She was then living there. She had called on Rogers after learning from the landlord that Smith and Robertson had left cards for him. Smith said he did not know her, but believed she was spoiled by keeping company with odd people. Smith then invited Rogers to dine with him next day at the usual Friday dinner of the Oyster Club. Rogers left delighted with the interview, and with Smith’s genuine kindness of heart.

On Friday, as appointed, Rogers dined with the Oyster Club as Smith’s guest. But he did not enter the event in his journal and had no record of the conversation. Black and Playfair seem to have been there, and possibly other men of eminence. But the whole talk was usurped by a commonplace member. Smith, and possibly Rogers too, felt that the day was lost. For next time they met Smith asked Rogers how he liked the club, and said, “That Bogle, I was sorry he talked so much; he spoiled our evening.” That Bogle was the Laird of Daldowie, on the Clyde. His father had been Rector of Glasgow University in Smith’s professorial days. One of his brothers, George Bogle, attained some eminence through the embassy on which he was sent by Warren Hastings to the Llama of Tibet. His account of which has been published quite recently. The offender himself was a man of ability and knowledge. He had been a West India merchant for many years He was well versed in economic and commercial subjects He was very fond of writing to the Government of the day long communications on those subjects. They seem to have been generally read, and sometimes even acted on. One of Bogle’s relations was Mr. Morehead He tells us that in society, Bogle was generally considered [Pg 419]very “tedious, from the long lectures on mercantile and political subjects. He had the habit of delivering them in the most humdrum and monotonous manner. He did not converse when he entered on these, but rather declaimed.”[350] However, his tedious lectures must have had more in them than ordinary hearers appreciated. Smith thought so highly of Bogle’s conversation. When he invited Rogers to the club, he mentioned that Bogle, a very clever person, was to be there. Smith said “I must go and hear Bogle talk.”[351]

Rogers was with Smith again on Sunday the 19th. He spoke of that particular Sunday ever after as the most memorable in his life, for he had= breakfast with Robertson, heard him preach in the Old Greyfriars in the forenoon, heard Blair preach in the High Church in the afternoon, drank coffee thereafter with Mrs. Piozzi, and finished the day by supping with Adam Smith. He had called on Smith “between sermons,” as they say in Scotland, and apparently close on the hour for service, since “all the bells of the kirks” were ringing. But Smith was going for an airing, and his chair was at the door. The sedan was much in vogue in Edinburgh at that period, because it threaded the narrow wynds and alleys better than any other sort of carriage was able to do. Smith met Rogers at the door. After exchanging the few observations about Bogle and the club, he invited his young friend to come back= to supper in the evening, and to dinner on Monday. Because he had asked Henry Mackenzie, the author of the Man of Feeling, to meet him. Rogers writes= “Who could refuse?” Smith then set out in his sedan. Rogers walked up to the High Church to hear Blair. He says, returning to Panmure House at nine, he found there all the company who were at the club on Friday [Pg 420]except Bogle and Macaulay, and with the addition of a Mr. Muir from Göttingen. (I do not know who Macaulay and Muir were.) They spoke of Junius. Smith suspected Single-speech Hamilton of the authorship, on the ground of the well-known story. It seems to have been then new to Rogers and which Smith had been told by Gibbon, that on one occasion when Hamilton was on a visit at Goodwood, he informed the Duke of Richmond that there was a devilish keen letter from Junius in the Public Advertiser of that day, and mentioned even some of the points it made; but when the Duke got hold of the paper he found the letter itself was not there, but only an apology for its absence. From this circumstance, Hamilton’s name came to be mentioned in connection with the authorship of the letters, and they ceased to appear. Smith’s argument was that so long as the letters were attributed to men who were not their writers, such as Lord Lansdowne or Burke, they continued to go on, but immediately the true author was named they stopped. The conversation passed on to Turgot and Voltaire and the Duke of Richelieu. Its particulars have been already stated in previous parts of this work.[352]

On Monday, Rogers dined at Smith’s house to meet Henry Mackenzie. The other guests seem to have been= the Mr. Muir of the evening before, and John M’Gowan, Clerk of the Signet. Dr. Hutton came in afterwards and joined them at tea. The chief share in the conversation seems to have been taken by Mackenzie. Scott says he was always “the life of company with anecdotes and fun,” Mackenzie related many stories of= second sight in the Highlands, and especially of the eccentric Caithness laird. He used the pretension as a very effectual instrument for maintaining authority and discipline among his tenantry. They spoke much too author = the poetesses,—Hannah More, and[Pg 421] Mrs. Charlotte Smith, and Mrs. John Hunter, the great surgeon’s wife But it appears Mackenzie still who bore the burden of the talk. The only thing Rogers reports Smith as saying is a very ordinary remark about Dr. Blair. They had been speaking about the sermon which Rogers—and Mackenzie also—had heard the previous afternoon on “Curiosity concerning the Affairs of Others,” One passage in which, though it reads now commonplace enough in the printed page, Rogers seems to have admired greatly. Smith observed that Blair= was too puffed up and would have been more or less than human if he had escaped the necessary effects of the excessive popularity he so long enjoyed as a preacher and as a critic. Burns detested Blair’s absurd condescension and pomposity.

From Smith’s, the company seems to have proceeded to a meeting of the Royal Society. All except Muir and Rogers were members. Before going, Mackenzie repeated an epigram which had been written on Smith sleeping at the meetings of this society, but the epigram has not been preserved. Only seven persons were present. Smith and his guests and the reader of the paper for the day, who happened to be the economist, Dr. James Anderson, already mentioned repeatedly in this book as the original propounder of Ricardo’s theory of rent. His paper was on “Debtors and the Revision of the Laws that respect them,” Rogers says it was “very long and dull,” As a natural consequence, “Mr. Commissioner Smith fell asleep, and Mackenzie touched my elbow and smiled,”[353]—a curious tableau. When the meeting was over, Rogers left and went to the play with Mrs. Piozzi. Though he no doubt saw Smith again before finally quitting Edinburgh, mentions him no more.

Having been so much with Smith during those few [Pg 422]days, Rogers’s impressions are in some respects of considerable value. He was deeply impressed with Smith’s warm kindness. “He is a very friendly, agreeable man I should have dined and supped with him everyday, if I had accepted all his invitations.”[354] He was very communicative,[355] To Rogers’s surprise, considering the disparity of their years and the greatness of his reputation, Smith was “quite familiar.” Smith would ask “Who shall we have to dinner?”. Rogers observed in him no sign of absence of mind,[356] He felt that, compared with Robertson, Smith was far more of a man who had seen much of the world. His communicativeness impressed itself also on other casual visitors, because his first appearance sometimes gave them the opposite suggestion of reserve. The anonymous writer who sent the first letter of reminiscences to the editor of the Bee says= “He was extremely communicative. He delivered himself on every subject with a freedom and boldness quite opposite to the apparent reserve of his appearance.”

William Adam was barrister and M.P.,and afterwards Chief Commissioner of the Jury Court in Scotland He was a nephew of Robert Adam, the architect. Robert was Smith’s schoolfellow and lifelong friend. He was another visitor to Scotland that year who enjoyed a talk with Smith. William Adam was an intimate personal friend of Bentham since the days when they ate their way to the bar together and spent their nights in endless discussions about Hume’s philosophy and other thorny subjects In Scotland in the summer of 1789, he met Smith. He drew the conversation to his friend Bentham’s recently published Defence of Usury. This book was written expressly to [Pg 423]controvert Smith’s recommendation of a legal limitation of the rate of interest. From this conversation with Adam, there seems to be some ground for thinking that the book had the very unusual controversial effect of converting the antagonist against whom it was written. Smith’s reason for wanting to fix the legal rate of interest at a maximum just a little above the ordinary market rate was to prevent undue facilities being given to prodigals and projectors. But Bentham replied very justly that, whatever might be said of prodigals= projectors were one of the most useful classes a community could have. a wise government should do all it could to encourage their enterprise instead of thwarting it, and the best policy therefore was to leave the rate of interest alone. In conducting his polemic, Bentham wrote as an admiring pupil towards a venerated master/ Bentham said he= owed everything to Smith, and could gain no advantage except “with weapons which you have taught me to wield and with which you have furnished me; for as all the great standards of truth which can be appealed to in this line owe their establishment to you, I can see scarce any other way of convicting you of an error or oversight than by judging you out of your own mouth.”[357]

Smith was touched with the handsome spirit of his adversary. He candidly admitted to Adam the force of his assaults. The conversation is preserved in a letter written to Bentham on December 4, 1789 by George Wilson. Wilson was another friend and fellow-barrister. He apparently heard the story from Adam.

Wilson writes “Did we ever tell you what Dr. Adam Smith said to Mr. William Adam, the Council M.P., last summer in Scotland? The Doctor’s expressions were that= ‘the Defence of Usury was the work of a very superior man, though he had given [Pg 424]him some hard knocks, it was done in so handsome a way that he could not complain,’ It seemed to admit that you were right.”[358] This admission was apparently not made in so many words by Smith, but rather inferred by Adam from the general purport of the conversation. It is still not far removed from the confession so definitely reported that his position suffered some hard knocks from the assaults of Bentham. After that confession it is reasonable to think that if Smith had lived to publish another edition of his work, he would have modified his position on the rate of interest.


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