Lecturer at EdinburghSeptember 27, 2015
Smith returned to Scotland probably to get a Scotch university chair eventually. But he thought in the meantime to get a job as a traveling tutor to the Duke of Buccleugh, who was a ranking and wealthy young man. It was then a much-desired and a highly-paid job.
He afterwards gave up his chair for that job. While looking for that job, he stayed at home with his mother in Kirkcaldy. He had to remain there without any regular job for two years, from the autumns of 1746 to 1748.
The appointment never came. The ordinary parent did not see Smith as the most suitable person to entrust the care of spirited and thoughtless young gentlemen with, because of his absent manner and bad address.
But his visits to Edinburgh in looking for this work bore fruit by giving him=
- quite as good a start in life, and
- a shortcut to the professorial position he was best fitted for.
During the winter of 1748-49, he successfully began as a public lecturer by delivering a course on English literature. It was then a comparatively untried subject.
At the same time, he gave a first contribution to English literature by collecting and editing the poems of William Hamilton of Bangour. For both these undertakings, he was indebted to the advice and good offices of Lord Kames.
Lord Kames was then Mr. Henry Home. He was one of the leaders of the Edinburgh bar.
James Oswald of Dunnikier was=
- Smith’s friend and neighbour,
- among Kames’s most intimate friends, and
- the one who introduced Smith to Kames.
Kames was now 52. He had not yet written the works which later raised him to eminence. But in the literary society of the North, he had long enjoyed being the master of all questions of taste, from an epic poem to a garden plot. Voltaire laughs at him for trying to take this topic to the world. He had little Latin and no Greek because= - he was never in college, and - the classical quotations in his Sketches were translated for him by A.F. Tytler. Because of this deficiency, he focused more on English literature when it became the rage in Scotland after the Union. He was soon= - fighting with Bishop Butler in metaphysics, and - the accepted guide of the new Scotch poets in literary criticism. Hamilton of Bangour confesses that he himself learned to criticise from Henry Home. Home’s place in the literature of Scotland corresponds with his place in its agriculture. He was the first of the improvers. Smith always held him in the deepest veneration. When Smith was complimented as one of great writers who reflected glory on Scotland, he said, “Yes, but we must all acknowledge Kames for our master."[Pg 32]
When Home found Smith already as well-versed in the English classics as himself, he suggested that Smith deliver lectures on English literature and criticism. The subject was fresh and fashionable. Stevenson was the Professor of Logic. He had already lectured on it in English. But nobody had yet given lectures on it open to the general public. English literature so much engaged the public's interest then. The success of such a course seemed assured and was really successful. Among the attendees in the class were= Kames himself, students for the bar, like Alexander Wedderburn, afterwards Lord Chancellor of England, William Johnstone, He had a long influential part in Parliament as Sir William Pulteney. young ministers of the city like Dr. Blair, and He subsequently gave a similar course himself. many others, both young and old. It brought Smith a clear £100. The customary fee then was a guinea. In such a case, the audience would be more than 100. It was probably held in the College because Blair's subsequent course was delivered there even before the establishment of any formal connection with the University by the creation of the professorship. Smith's lectures on English literature were burnt at his own request shortly before his death. Blair heard them at the time. He later used a part of them in preparing his own lectures on rhetoric. He speaks as if there was some hope at one time that Smith would publish them. But if Smith ever intended to, he was too preoccupied with and more interested in publishing a greater work. It has been suggested that they are practically reproduced in Blair's lectures. Blair acknowledges having taken a few hints for his treatment of simplicity in style from [Pg 33] Smith's lectures. His words are= "The current and following lectures discuss the general plain and simple characters of style of English authors. Several ideas about this have been taken from the learned and ingenious Dr. Adam Smith's treatise on rhetoric, which he showed to me many years ago. I hope that he will give it to the public." Many of Smith's friends now considered this acknowledgment very insufficient. Hill was Blair's biographer. He says Smith complained about it too. But it is very unlikely that Smith ever joined in any such complain because Henry Mackenzie told Samuel Rogers a contrary anecdote. Mackenzie was speaking of Smith's wealth of conversation. He told how Smith often used to say to him= "Sir, you have said enough to make a book." Smith then mentioned that Blair frequently introduced into his sermons some of Smith's thoughts on jurisprudence. Blair gathered them from his conversation and told it to Smith. Smith replied "He is very welcome, there is enough left." Blair intended to publish his own work on jurisprudence. Smith also heartily welcomed Blair to his thoughts on literature and style. But Blair probably was not as interested in it. Based on the two chapters where he cites Smith, Blair seem to have only borrowed what was already the commonest of property. He only took what his superficial mind could take. He left behind the pith of Smith's thinking. To borrow a hat, two heads must be of the same size. Therefore, Smith's literary lectures would not be in Blair's lectures. We could still collect an adequate view of his literary opinions= from incidental remarks in his writings or from recollections of his conversation preserved by friends. According to Wordsworth in the preface to the Lyrical Ballads= Except for David Hume, Smith was the worst critic that Scotland has produced. Such critics are a kind of weed which seem natural to Scotland's soil. Today's taste certainly goes against Smith's judgments. He preferred the classical to the romantic school. Along with Voltaire, he thought= that Shakespeare had written good scenes but not a good play, and that though Shakespeare had more dramatic genius than Dryden, Dryden was the greater poet. He thought little of Milton's minor poems, and less of the old ballads collected by Percy. But= He had great admiration for Pope. He believed Gray. If he had only written a little more, he would have been the greatest poet in the English language He thought Racine's Phædrus was the finest tragedy in the world. His great test for literary beauty was that the beauty is always proportional to the difficulty perceived to be overcome. He mentions this in his Essay on the Imitative Arts, At this early period of his life, Smith seems to have dreamed of becoming a poet. He had an extensive familiarity with the poets. This always struck Dugald Stewart as very remarkable in a man so conspicuous for the weight of his more solid attainments. Stewart says= Smith referred to a variety of poetical passages occasionally. He could repeat them correctly. It was surprising even to those who were never attracted to more important acquisitions. The tradition of Smith's early ambition to be a poet is only preserved in an allusion in Caleb Colton's[Pg 35] "Hypocrisy" below= But it is supported from a remark of Smith's own in conversation with a young friend in his later years. Unused am I the Muse's path to tread, And curs'd with Adam's unpoetic head, Who, though that pen he wielded in his handOrdain'd the Wealth of Nations to command; Yet when on Helicon he dar'd to draw,His draft return'd and unaccepted saw. If thus like him we lay a rune in vain,Like him we'll strive some humbler prize to gain.
Smith’s own confession is in a report of some conversations given in the Bee for 1791. He was speaking about blank verse which he always disliked. We know this from an interesting incident mentioned by Boswell. Boswell attended Smith’s lectures on English literature at Glasgow College in 1759. He told Johnson four years later that Smith had pronounced a strong opinion in these lectures= against blank verse and in favour of rhyme Smith’s principle was that the greater the difficulty, the greater the beauty. This delighted Johnson. He said= “Sir, I was once in company with Smith We did not take to each other. but had I known that he loved rhyme as much as you tell me he does, I should have hugged him.” Twenty years later, Smith again expressed to the Bee’s anonymous interviewer his unabated contempt for all blank verse except Milton’s. He said= “Blank verse, they do well to call it blank, for blank it is. I myself even, who never could find a single rhyme in my life, could make blank verse as fast as I could speak.” The critic appears here again to have been the poet who has failed. But in this case, he discovered the failure without tempting the public’s judgment.
He had already begun to discover his true vocation. He delivered his lectures on English literature for three successive winters. He also delivered at least one winter a course on economics. This course was written in 1749 and delivered from 1750-51. In it, Smith advocated the doctrines of commercial liberty on which he was nurtured by Hutcheson, and which he was afterwards to do so much to advance. He states this in a paper read before a learned society in Glasgow in 1755. This paper later fell into the hands of Dugald Stewart. Stewart extracts a passage from it, which I shall quote in a subsequent chapter. They contain a plain statement of the doctrine of natural liberty. Smith says in 1749 that most of the opinions in the paper were "treated of at length in some lectures which= I still have and were written in the hand of a clerk who left six years ago" . "all of them had been the subjects of lectures which I read at Edinburgh the winter before I left it. I can show innumerable witnesses from here and there who will prove them to be mine." These ideas of natural liberty in industrial affairs were actively at work in Smith's mind and in the minds of others in his immediate circle in Scotland in 1749 and 1750. David Hume and James Oswald were then corresponding about it. Smith probably had not seen anything of Hume personally then. (Hume had been abroad with General St. Clair part of it, and did not live in Edinburgh after his return) Though it was in those and the two previous years that Smith was first brought into real intellectual contact with his friend and townsman, James Oswald. Oswald was still a young [Pg 37]man, only eight years older than Smith. He had already made his mark in Parliament where he= sat for their native burgh, and had been made a Commissioner of the Navy in 1745. He had made his mark largely by his mastery of economic subjects for which Hume said that he had a "great genius," and "would go far in that way if he persevered." He said that after visiting him at Dunnikier for a week in 1744, He later became= commissioner of trade and plantations, Lord of the Treasury, and Vice-Treasurer of Ireland. He would have gone further had it not been for his premature death in 1768 at the age of 52. Lord Shelburne once strongly advised Lord Bute to make him Chancellor of the Exchequer. Smith thought as highly of Oswald as Hume. Oswald's grandson heard Smith saying that= Smith used to "dilate with a generous and enthusiastic pleasure on Mr. Oswald's qualifications and merits. Smith candidly avowed at the same time how much information he had received on many points from Oswald's= enlarged views and profound knowledge." Dugald Stewart saw a paper written by Smith describing Oswald as a man who= had extensive knowledge of economic subjects and, had a special taste and capacity for discussing their more general and philosophical aspects. That paper is the same 1755 document which I have just mentioned where Smith proved his early attachment to the doctrines of economic liberty It naturally shows the circumstances connected with the growth of his opinions. Smith and Oswald must have been in communication on economic questions around that time. Oswald's views are contained in that correspondence. Early in 1750, David Hume sent Oswald the manuscript of his well-known essay on the Balance of Trade. It was afterwards published in his Political Essays in 1752. Hume was asking [Pg 38]for his views and criticisms. Oswald replied on October 10 in a long letter, published in the Caldwell Papers,. It shows him to have= been already entirely above the prevailing mercantilist prejudices, and very clear conceptions of economic operations. He declares jealousies between nations of being drained of their produce and money to be quite irrational. It could never happen as long as the people and industry remained. He held that the prohibition against exporting commodities and money had always produced effects directly contrary to it intended. It had reduced cultivation at home instead of increasing it. It really forced the more money out of the country the more produce it prevented from leaving. Oswald's letter was sent on by Hume, together with his own essay, to Baron Mure. Mure was also interested in such discussions. Thus, the new light was breaking in on inquirers in Scotland and elsewhere. Smith was within its play from his earliest days. Amid the more serious labours of these literary and economic lectures, it would be an agreeable relaxation to collect and edit the scattered poems, published and unpublished, of Hamilton of Bangour.
Wordsworth called Hamilton the “exquisite ballad” of “The Braes o’ Yarrow,” beginning=
Busk ye, busk ye, my bonny, bonny bride, Busk ye, busk ye, my winsome marrow, Busk ye, busk ye, my bonny, bonny bride, And think no more on the Braes o' Yarrow. This ballad appeared in Allan Ramsay's Tea-Table Miscellany in 1724. It was followed by Hamilton's most ambitious effort, the poem "Contemplation," in 1739. But the general public of Scotland only appreciated it after Hamilton espoused the Jacobite cause in 1745. He celebrated the [Pg 39] victory of Prestonpans by his "Ode to the Battle of Gladsmuir"—the name the Jacobites preferred to give the battle. This ode had been set to music by M'Gibbon. It became a great favourite in Jacobite households. It created so much popular interest in Hamilton's other works that imperfect versions of some of his unpublished poems, and even of those which were already in print, began to appear. Hamilton was himself an outlaw, and could not intervene. The ode which had lifted him into popularity had at the same time driven him into exile. He was then= living with a little group of young Scotch refugees at Rouen. completely shattered in bodily health by his three months' hiding among the Grampians. His friends advised him to forestall the pirated and imperfect collections of his poems. He thought of publishing them as the most complete and correct edition possible of them in Hamilton's absence. This edition was issued from the famous Foulis press in Glasgow in 1748. In the preface, they said that they acted "not only without the author's consent, but without his knowledge." But it is absurd to call an edition published under those circumstances, as The new Dictionary of National Biography calls it a "surreptitious edition." It was published by Hamilton's closest personal friends= to protect his reputation, and perhaps as a plea for his pardon.
David Laing tells us that the task of collecting and editing the poems was entrusted to Adam Smith. Smith was with Hamilton when Hamilton lived in Scotland between 1750 and 1752. Hamilton received the royal pardon in 1750 and left in 1752 from the fatal malady of consumption. It is a more relentless enemy than kings.
He died two years later from it at Lyons.
Sir John Dalrymple, the historian, wrote to Robert Foulis, the printer of “the many happy and flattering hours which Smith had spent with Mr. Hamilton.”
When Hamilton's friends proposed to print a second edition of the poems, they come to Smith for assistance. This edition was published in 1758. It is dedicated to the memory of William Craufurd, merchant, Glasgow, a friend of Hamilton mentioned in the preface to the first edition. He supplied many of the previously unpublished pieces which it contained. Craufurd was an uncle of Sir John Dalrymple, Sir John asks Foulis to get Smith to write this dedication. In December 1757, he says= "Sir, I have changed my mind about the dedication of Mr. Hamilton's poems. I would have it stand 'the friend of William Hamilton,' but I assent to your opinion to have something more to express Mr. Craufurd's character. I know none so able to do this as my friend Mr. Smith. I earnestly beg that he will write the inscription with all the elegance and all the feelingness which he is able to express. This is a thing that touches me very nearly. Therefore I beg a particular answer as to what he says to it. The many happy and the many flattering hours which he has spent with Mr. Hamilton and Mr. Craufurd makes me think that he will account his usual indolence a crime upon this occasion. I beg you will make my excuse for not writing him this night. But then I consider writing to you upon this head to be wryting to him." It is unlikely that Smith would resist an appeal like this. The dedication bears some internal marks of his authorship. It describes Mr. Craufurd as= "the friend of Mr. Hamilton Hamilton had exact frugality, downright probity and pliancy [Pg 41]of manners so suitable to his profession. Craufurd added= - a love of learning and of all the ingenious arts, - an openness of hand and a generosity of heart that was far both from vanity and from weakness, - a magnanimity that would support a most torturing pain of body with an unalterable cheerfulness of - temper, under the prospect of inevitable death, and - the most manly and vigorous activity of business uninterrupted to his last hour." This William Craufurd is confounded by Lord Woodhouselee with Robert Crauford. Robert was= - the author of "The Bush aboon Traquair," "Tweedside," and other poems, and - also an intimate friend of Hamilton of Bangour, but died in 1732. Another link in the circumstantial evidence corroborating David Laing's statement is the fact that Smith was then in communication with Hamilton's personal friends, at whose instance the volume of poems was published. Kames was then interesting himself so actively in Smith's advancement. He was the closest surviving friend of Hamilton. They had been= - constant companions in youth, - leading spirits of that new school of dandies called "the beaux" The beaux were young men of fashion and of letters They adorned Scotch society between the Rebellions They continued to adorn many after-dinner tables in Edinburgh until the present century. Hamilton owns that it was Kames who= first taught him "verse to criticise," and wrote to him the poem "To H.H. at the Assembly"; Kames for his part used in his old age, as his neighbour Ramsay of Ochtertyre informs us, to have no greater enjoyment than recounting the scenes and doings he and Hamilton had transacted together in those early days. Hamilton writes about it as the time when they "kept friendship's holy vigil" in the subterranean taverns of old Edinburgh "full many a fathom deep."