College AdministratorSeptember 25, 2015
A common misconception was that Smith was helpless in business.
One of his Edinburgh neighbours told Robert Chambers that Smith wrote so well on exchange and barter. But that it was strange that he was obliged to get a friend to buy his horse corn for him.
This idea of his helplessness in the petty transactions arose from observing his=
- occasional fits of absence and
- His fits of absence do not seem so frequent nor so prolonged as they are commonly represented.
- simple character.
But his simplicity was accompanied by exceptional acuteness and practical sagacity. Samuel Rogers spent most of a week with him in Edinburgh the year before his death. He did not remark his absence of mind. During his 13 years’ residence at Glasgow College, Smith seems to have had more to do with the College’s business than any other professor. His brethren in its Senate cannot have seen in him any marked failing or incapacity for ordinary business.
- gave him their committee and general routine work,
- set him to
- audit accounts,
- inspect the drains in the College court, or
- see the holly hedge in the College garden uprooted, or
- examine the encroachments on the College lands on the Molendinar Burn, without any fear of his [Pg 67]forgetting his business on the way.
They entrusted him for years with the post of College Quæstor or Treasurer. In this, inattention or the lack of sound business habits might inflict injury even on their pecuniary interests. They made him one of the two curators of the College chambers. These are the 40 lodgings provided for students inside the College gates. When there was any matter of business that was a little troublesome or delicate to negotiate, they seem generally to have chosen Smith for their chief spokesman or representative. It was then very common for Scotch students to bring with them from home at the beginning of the session as much oatmeal as would keep them until the end of it By an ancient privilege of the University, they could bring this meal with them into the city without requiring to pay custom on it.
But in 1757 those students were obliged by the tacksman of the meal-market to pay custom on their meal, though it was meant for their own use alone. Along with Professor Muirhead, Smith was appointed= to go and represent to the Provost that the exaction was a violation of the University’s privileges, and to demand repayment within eight days, under pain of legal proceedings. At the next Senate meeting “Mr. Smith reported that he had spoken to the Provost of Glasgow about the ladles exacted by the town from students for meal brought into the town for their own use, and that the Provost promised to cause what had been exacted to be returned, and that accordingly the money was offered by the town’s ladler to the students.”
Smith was often entrusted with College business to transact in Edinburgh= to arrange with Andrew Stuart, W.S., about promoting a bill in Parliament, or to wait on the Barons of Exchequer and get the College accounts passed. He was generally the medium of communication [Pg 68]between the Senatus and the authorities of Balliol College. They had long and troublesome contentions about the Snell property and the Snell exhibitioners.
He was Quæstor from 1758 until he left in 1764. In that capacity, he managed the library funds and some other funds. His duties were subsequently divided between the factor and the librarian. Professor Dickson says that the professors used to take this office in turn for a term of two or three years. But Smith held the office longer than the customary term. On the May 19, 1763 the Senate agreed that “as Dr. Smith has long executed the office of Quæstor, he is allowed to take the assistance of an amanuensis.” He was Dean of Faculty from 1760 to 1762. He exercised a general supervision over= the studies of the College and the granting of degrees He was also was one of the three visitors charged with seeing that the College’s whole business was administered according to the statutes of 1727. In 1762 while still filling these two offices, he was appointed to the additional and important business office of Vice-Rector, by his personal friend Sir Thomas Miller. Miller was the Lord-Advocate of Scotland (afterwards Lord President of the Court of Session), and was Rector of the University that year. Sir Thomas Miller was generally absent because of his public engagements in London or his professional engagements in Edinburgh. Smith as Vice-Rector had to preside over all University meetings, at a time when this duty was made delicate by the contentions among the professors. These were the meetings of the Senatus, Comitia, and the Rector’s Court. The Rector’s Court consisted of the Rector and professors. It was a judiciary and an administrative body. At one time, it had the power of life and death. According to the Parliamentary Report of 1829, it actually imprisoned several delinquents in the College steeple within the previous 50 years. Some time elapsed after Sir Thomas Miller’s [Pg 69] election to the Rectorship before he was able to appoint a Vice-Rector. because he could not appoint a Vice-Rector until= he was himself admitted. he could not attend personally to be admitted on account of engagements elsewhere. During this interval, Smith was elected præses of the University meetings by the choice of his colleagues. At the time, the position was difficult. They would not likely choose a man of decided business incapacity.
Smith’s successor was Dr. Reid. Dr. Reid’s remark gives some idea of the place’s difficulty because of the dissensions prevailing in the College during Smith’s residence there. In the first year after his arrival in Glasgow, Reid writes one of his Aberdeen friends complaining bitterly of being obliged to attend five or six College meetings every week. These meetings were very disagreeable character, because of “an evil spirit of party that puts us in a ferment. I am afraid that it will produce bad consequences.” A writer in the Gentleman’s Magazine noticed Smith’s death in 1790. He says that= these divisions turned on questions of academic policy. Smith always took the side which was popular with people of condition in the city. The writer offers no further particulars. These questions kept the Glasgow Senate in such perpetual perturbation then. They were not questions of general policy or public interest. They raised petty issues. It does not matter whether Smith sided with the kites or with the crows. The troubles were generated, without any public differences, out of the constitution of the University itself. It seemed to be framed, as if to create the greatest possible friction on purpose. The Parliamentary Report of 1830 describes Glasgow University as under one name but really two distinct corporations, [Pg 70]with two distinct governing bodies. The University was governed by the Senate. It was composed of= the Rector, the Dean of Faculty, the Principal, 13 College or Faculty professors, and the five regius professors; and The College was governed by the Faculty. It consisted of the 13 College professors. They claimed= to be the sole owners and administrators of the College’s older endowments, and to have the right of electing the occupants of their own 13 chairs by co-optation. Within the Faculty, there was still another division of the professors into gown professors and other professors. The gown professors seem to have been the representatives of the five regents of earlier times. They were the professors of classes where the students wore academical gowns.
The gown classes were=
- Natural Philosophy
- Moral Philosophy
These several bodies held separate meetings and kept separate minutes, which remain to this day. The Senate’s meetings were called University meetings or Rector’s meetings, because they were presided over by the Rector. The meetings of the Faculty were called Faculty meetings or Principal’s meetings, because they were presided over by the Principal. Even the five gown professors with the Principal held separate meetings which the other professors could not attend. These meetings with the students every Saturday in the Common Hall for the administration of ordinary academic discipline for petty offences committed by the students of the five gown classes. Smith belonged to all three bodies. He was University professor, Faculty or College professor, and gown professor too. This complicated and unnatural system of government might breed incessant and irritating discussions without any grave division of opinion on serious educational policies. Practical difficulties could scarce help arising as to the respective functions of= the[Pg 71] University and the College, the respective claims of the regius professors and the Faculty professors, or the respective powers of the Rector and the Principal. Smith himself was one of a small committee which presented a very lengthy report on this last subject to the Senate of the University on August 13, 1762. The report was adopted. But two of the professors dissented on the ground that it was too favourable to the Principal’s powers.
Even if they wrangled over petty points of constitutional right or property administration, the heads of Glasgow College were then guided in their general policy by the wisest and most enlightened spirit of academic enlargement. Only a few years before Smith’s arrival, they had recognised the new claims of science by establishing a chemical laboratory. The celebrated Dr. Black was working out his discovery of latent heat in this laboratory during Smith’s residence . They gave a workshop in the College to James Watt in 1756. They made him mathematical instrument maker to the University, when the trade corporations of Glasgow refused to allow him to open a workshop in the city. It was in that very workshop and at this very period that a Newcomen’s engine he repaired set his thoughts revolving till the memorable morning in 1764 when the idea of the separate condenser leapt to his mind as he was strolling past the washhouse on Glasgow Green. At the same time, they had opened a printing office in another corner of the College for the better advancement of printing The University printer was the famous Robert Foulis. They were encouraging him to print those Homers and Horaces by which he more than rivaled the Elzevirs and Etiennes of the past. To help Foulis more, they helped establis the type-foundry of Wilson at Camlachie with their own money. Foulis procured the types for his Iliad there. They appointed Wilson type-founder to the University. In 1762, they erected a founding-house for him, [Pg 72] in their own grounds. They had just before endowed a new chair of astronomy, of which they had made their versatile type-founder the first professor, and built for him an astronomical observatory, from which he brought reputation to the College and himself by his observation of the solar spots. In 1753, they further gave Foulis more rooms in the College. It included the large room afterwards used as the Faculty Hall, to carry out his ill-fated scheme of an Academy of Design. This academy aimed to teach painting, sculpture, and engraving in the College as well as the classics and mathematics. Tassie and David Allan were then receiving their training under the same roof with the students for the so-called learned professions. While walking, the Earl of Buchan said, “after the manner of the ancients in the porticoes of Glasgow with Smith and with Millar,” unbent from the high tasks of philosophy by learning to etch in the studio of Foulis. This was the first school of design in Great Britain. There was as yet= no Royal Academy, no National Gallery, no South Kensington Museum, no technical colleges. The dream of the ardent printer was so actively seconded by the University heads. The dream was to found an institution to= combine the functions of those several institutions, and pay its own way by honest work into the bargain. In all these different ways, the College of Glasgow was doing its best, as far as its slender means allowed, to widen the scope of university education in accordance with modern requirements. There was still another direction in which they anticipated a movement of our own day. They had already done something for that popularisation of academic instruction which we call university extension. Professor John Anderson was an active and reforming spirit. He deserves to be held in honour in spite of his troublesome pugnacity. He used then to deliver within the College walls, with the complete concurrence and encouragement of his colleagues, a series of evening [Pg 73]lectures on natural philosophy to workers in their working clothes. The lectures generally have done great service to the arts and manufactures of the West of Scotland. It improved the technical education of the higher grades of artisans.
Smith took a warm interest in all these new developments. He actively promoted some of them. There is nothing in the University minutes to connect Smith in any more special way than the other professors with the University’s timely hospitality to James Watt. But that act was a direct protest on behalf of industrial liberty against the tyrannical spirit of the trade guilds so strongly condemned in the Wealth of Nations. It is at least interesting to remember that Smith had a part in it. Watt was then 20 years old. He had returned from London to Glasgow to set up as mathematical instrument maker. But there was no other mathematical instrument maker in the city. The corporation of hammermen refused to permit his settlement because he= was not the son or son-in-law of a burgess, and had not served his apprenticeship within the burgh. But in those days of privilege, the universities also had their privileges. The professors of Glasgow enjoyed an absolute and independent authority over the area within college bounds. They defeated the oppression of Watt by= making him mathematical instrument maker to the University, and giving him= a room in the College buildings for his workshop and another room at the College gates for selling his instruments. Smith joined in these proceedings with the warmest approval. For we know how he regarded the oppressions of the corporation laws. He says “The property which every man has in his labour as it is the original foundation of all other property, so it is the most sacred and inviolable. The patrimony of the poor man lies in the strength and [Pg 74]dexterity of his hands. To hinder him from employing this strength and dexterity how he thinks proper without injury to his neighbour is a plain violation of this most sacred property. It is a manifest encroachment upon the just liberty both of the workman and of those who might be disposed to employ him.” Watt’s workshop was a favourite resort of Smith’s during his residence at Glasgow College. For Watt’s conversation was fresh and original even if he was young. He had great attractions for the stronger spirits about him. Watt always retained the deepest respect for Smith. He invented the sculpture machine in 1809 and was amusing the leisure of his old age with it. He presented his works to his friends as “the productions of a young artist just entering his 83rd year.” One of his first works with the machine was a small head of Adam Smith in ivory.
Smith took a particular interest in the Foulis press and the Academy of Design. He himself was a book-fancier. He was fond of fine editions and bindings. He observed Smellie the printer admiring some of the books in his library. He said to Smellie “I am a beau in nothing but my books.” Dugald Stewart tells us that he had a carefully-cultivated taste for the fine arts. He was considered by his contemporaries an excellent judge of a picture or a sculpture. Though in Stewart’s opinion, Smith appeared interested in works of art less as instruments of direct enjoyment than as materials for speculative discussions on the principles of human nature involved in their production. Smith seems to have been one of Foulis’s chief practical advisers in the work of the Academy of Design. For example= in settling the pictures which should be copied by the pupils, or the subjects which should be chosen for original work from Plutarch or other classical [Pg 75]sources, and which would be most likely to suit modern taste.
Sir John Dalrymple appears to= have been one of Foulis’s associates in the enterprise have taken an active concern in the sale of the productions of the Academy in its Edinburgh agency shop. He writes Foulis on December 1, 1757 on the kind of work that should be sent for sale there. “In the History pictures that you send in, I beg you will take the advice of Mr. Smith and Dr. Black. Your present scheme should not be to execute what you think the best, but what will sell the best. You may be the better judge in the first, since you are the master of a great Academy. But in the last, I think their advice will be useful to you.” Whether it is an idea or not, I am going to give you a piece of trouble. Be so good as make out a catalogue of your pictures, and as far as you can of your busts, books of drawings, and prints. Secondly, your boys, and how employed. Thirdly, the people who have studied under you with a view to the mechanical art. And lastly, give some account of the prospects which you think you have of being of use either to the mechanical or to the fine arts of your country. Frame this into a memorial and send it to me. I shall have it tried here by some who wish well to you. I will go to London in the spring. I shall, together with Mr. Wedderburn and Mr. Elliot, consider what are the most prudent measures to take for your sake, or whether to take any. Mr. Smith is too busy or too indolent. But I flatter myself Dr. Black will be happy to make out this memorial for you. Let me know if I have any chance of seeing you this winter. I have none of being at Glasgow. Therefore, I wish you and Mr. Smith would come here, or you by yourself would come here in the Christmas vacance.”
The memorial in this letter was a memorial to Government in behalf of a project then [Pg 76]promoted by the Earl of Selkirk and other friends of Foulis. This memorial was in settling a salary on him for directing an institution so useful to the nation as the Academy of Design. I cannot say whether Smith overcame his alleged indolence and drew up the memorial. But this whole letter shows that Smith and Black were the two friends in Glasgow whom Foulis principally consulted. The last sentence seems to indicate that Smith’s hand in the business was hardly less intimate than Dalrymple’s own. This letter show how= Sir John Dalrymple’s ideas of Smith were completely different from those of today. he sends a tradesman to the philosopher for advice on practical points in his trade. As to pure questions of art, whether this work or that is finest, he thinks Foulis might be the best judge. But when it comes to which will sell the best—and that was the question for the success of the project—then he is urged to take the practical mind of Smith to his counsels. Though Smith’s leanings were not to practical life, his judgment, as any page of the Wealth of Nations shows, was of most eminently practical. He had little of the impulse to meddle in affairs or the itch to manage them that belongs to more bustling people, but had unquestionably a practical mind and capacity.
If Smith was consulted by Foulis in this way about the Academy of Design’s management, we may safely infer that he had also more to do with the Foulis press than merely visiting the office to see the famous Iliad while it was on the case. Smith’s connection with Foulis began before he went to Glasgow, through the publication of Hamilton of Bangour’s poems by the University press. I think it is reasonable to see traces of Smith’s suggestion in the number of early economic books which Foulis reissued after the year 1750. These were works of writers like Child, Gee, Mun, Law, and Petty. [Pg 77]
Smith took an active interest in the University type-foundry. Because he was a warm friend and associate of the accomplished type-founder. Wilson had been bred as a physician. But gave up his practice to become type-founder. He devoted himself to astronomy. Smith also gave some attention, at this period of his life. Smith was possibly then writing his fragment on the history of astronomy. It was not published until after his death. Dugald Stewart tells us that it was the earliest of all his compositions. It was the first part of an extensive work on the history of all the sciences which he had at this time projected. Wilson, having gone to large expense both of time and money to cast the Greek type for the University Homer, and having never found another customer for the fount except the University printer, went up to London in 1759 to push for orders. Smith gave him a letter of recommendation to Hume, who was then living there. Hume writes to Smith on July 29= “Your friend Mr. Wilson called on me two or three days ago when I was abroad and left your letter. I did not see him until today. He seems a very modest, sensible, ingenious man. Before I saw him I spoke to Mr. A. Millar about him. I found him much disposed to serve Mr. Wilson. I proposed to Mr. Millar that it was worthy of so eminent a bookseller as he to make a complete elegant set of the classics, which might set up his name equal to the Alduses, Stevenses, or Elzevirs, and that Mr. Wilson was the most proper person to assist him. He confessed to me that he had sometimes thought of it. But his great difficulty was to find a man of letters that could correct the press. I mentioned the matter to Wilson. He said he had a man of letters in his eye one Lyon, a nonjuring clergyman of Glasgow. I want your opinion of him.” [Pg 78]
Wilson lived in the College in 1762 after his appointment to the chair of Astronomy. He found it inconvenient to go to and fro between the College and Camlachie to attend to the type-foundry. He petitioned the Senate to build him a founding-house in the College grounds. He based his claim on= their custom of giving accommodation to the arts subservient to learning, his own services to the University in the matter of the Greek types before mentioned, and his having undertaken, despite the discouraging results of that speculation, to cast a large and elegant Hebrew type for the University press. He estimated that the building would cost no more than the very modest sum of £40 sterling. He offered to pay a fair rent. This memorial came up for consideration on April 5. Smith proposed the motion which was ultimately carried. The University should build a new foundry for Mr. Wilson on the site most convenient within the College grounds for not more than £40 sterling, on condition that= (1) Mr. Wilson pay a reasonable rent, and (2) if the house should become useless to the College before the Senate were sufficiently recouped for their expenditure, Mr. Wilson or his heirs should be obliged to make adequate compensation. The foundry was erected in the little College garden next the Physic Garden. It cost £19 more than the estimate. It was let for £3= 15s. a year It appears that 6.5% on the actual expenditure (irrespective of any allowance for the site) was considered a fair rent by the University authorities then.
The Senate of this little college was actively encouraging every liberal art. In a few years, it had added the following to the lecture-room of Hutcheson and Smith= Black’s laboratory Watt’s workshop Foulis’ press the academy of painting, sculpture, and engraving, and the foundry and observatory of Wilson, entertained [Pg 79]in 1761 the idea of doing something for the promotion of athletics among the students, and had under consideration a proposal for the establishment of a new academy of dancing, fencing, and riding in the University. Adam Smith again appears to have been an active promoter of this scheme. He was chosen by the Senate on December 22, 1761 to go in their name and explain their design to the Rector, Lord Erroll, and ask for help. However, this idea seems to have been fruitless. Dancing was an exercise they required to be observed with considerable moderation. for they passed a rule in 1752 that no student should be present at balls or assemblies or the like more than thrice in one session. But they treated it with no austere proscription.
They sought to proscribe only the dramatic arts. In 1762, the Senate was profoundly disturbed by a project then on foot for the erection of the first permanent theatre in Glasgow. The affair originated with five respectable and wealthy merchants. They were prepared to build the house at their own expense. Their leader was Robert Bogle of Shettleston. Dr. Carlyle tells us that he played “Sempronius” in a students’ performance of Cato inside Glasgow College in 1745. Carlyle played the title rôle. Another divinity student, already mentioned as a college friend of Smith’s, Dr. Maclaine of the Hague, played a minor part. But an amateur representation of an unexceptionable play under the eye of the professors was one thing. The construction of a public playhouse, catering like other public playhouses for the too licentious taste of the period, was another. The project of Mr. Bogle and his friends in 1762 excited equal alarm from the city’s populace, the Town Council, and the University. The Council refused to sanction a site for the theatre within the city bounds. The promoters were obliged to build it a mile outside. But the people’s anger [Pg 80] pursued them farther. On the eve of its opening in 1764 where Mrs. Bellamy was to play the leading part, it was set on fire by a mob, instigated by a wild preacher. The preacher said he had been present in a vision at an entertainment in hell on the previous night. The toast of the evening proposed in most flattering terms from the chair, was the health of Mr. Millar. He was the maltster who had sold the site for this new devil’s temple.
During the two years between the projection of this building and its destruction, it caused the Senate of the College no common anxiety. Smith went along with them in all they did. On November 25, 1762 he was appointed as a committee, with the Principal and two other professors, to= confer with the magistrates on the most proper ways of preventing the establishment of a playhouse in Glasgow, and procure all the information on= the privileges of the University of Oxford with respect to their ability to prevent anything of that kind being established within their bounds, and how those privileges were made effectual. On the recommendation of this committee, the University agreed to= memorialise the Lord Advocate on the subject, and ask the city magistrates to join them in sending the memorial. The Lord Advocate apparently suggested doubts as to the extent of their ancient powers or privileges in the direction contemplated, Smith was appointed, along with the Principal and one or two other professors, as a special committee of inquiry into the ancient privileges and constitution of the University The Principal was instructed meanwhile to express to his lordship the earnest desire of the University to prevent the establishment of a playhouse. While this inquiry was proceeding, the city magistrates had determined, with the concurrence of a large body of the inhabitants, to raise an [Pg 81]action at law against the players if they should attempt to act plays in the new theatre. At a meeting over which Smith presided, and in whose action he concurred, the University agreed to join the magistrates in this prosecution. The agitation against the playhouse was still proceeding when Smith resigned his chair in 1764. But shortly afterwards, finding itself without any legal support, it gradually died away. Smith entertained no objection to theatrical representations. But he was so deeply impressed with their beneficial character that in the Wealth of Nations he specially recommends them for positive encouragement by the State He expressly dissociates himself from those “fanatical promoters of popular frenzies” who make dramatic representations “more than all other diversions the objects of their peculiar abhorrence.” The State encouragement he wants is nothing in the nature of the endowment of a national theatre, which is sometimes demanded nowadays. All the encouragement he asks for is liberty—”entire liberty to all those who from their own interest would attempt, without scandal or indecency, to amuse and divert the people by painting, poetry, music, dancing, by all sorts of dramatic representations and exhibitions.” But in pressing for this liberty, he expresses the strongest conviction that “the frequency and gaiety of public diversions” is absolutely essential for the good of the commonwealth, in order= to “correct whatever is unsocial or disagreeably rigorous in the morals of all the little sects into which the country is divided,” and to “dissipate that melancholy and gloomy humour which is almost always the source of popular superstition and enthusiasm.” Yet here we seem to find him in alliance with the little sects himself, and trying to crush that liberty of dramatic representations which he declares to be so vital to the health of the community. [Pg 82]
The reason is not that he had changed his opinions between the attempts to suppress the Glasgow playhouse in 1762. The publication of his general plea for playhouses in the Wealth of Nations in 1776. He had not changed his opinions. He traveled with a pupil to France, still warm from this agitation in Glasgow. As we learn from Stewart, Smith was a great frequenter and admirer of the theatre in that country, A few years before the agitation began, he was as deeply interested as any other of John Home’s friends in the representations of the tragedy of Douglas, and as much a partisan of Home’s cause. He does not appear to have been present either at the public performance of Home’s tragedy in Edinburgh in 1756, or at the previous private performance. which is alleged to have taken place at Mrs. Ward the actress’s rooms, and in which the author himself, and Hume, Carlyle, Ferguson, and Blair are all said to have acted parts. But that he was in complete sympathy with them on the subject is manifest from an undated letter of Hume to Smith, which must have been written in that year. In this letter, he writes= “I can now give you the satisfaction of hearing that the play, though not near so well acted in Covent Garden as in this place, is likely to be very successful. Its great intrinsic merit breaks through all obstacles. When it shall be printed (which shall be soon) I am persuaded it will be esteemed the best, and by French critics the only tragedy of our language.” After finishing his letter he adds= “I have just now received a copy of Douglas from London. It will instantly be put on the press. I hope to be able to send you a copy in the same parcel with the dedication.” These sentences certainly imply that Smith’s ideas of theatrical representations were in harmony with those of Hume and his other Edinburgh friends, but [Pg 83]shortly afterwards he is seeking to revive obsolete academic privileges to prevent the erection of a theatre.
The explanation is in the line of the conditional clause. He uses this to limits his claim for entire liberty to dramatic entertainments—they must be “without scandal or indecency.” If free trade and public morals clash, free trade must give way. His opposition to the Glasgow playhouse project must have originated in his persuasion that it was not attended, as things then went, with sufficient practical safeguards against scandal and indecency. In considering that point, due weight must be given to= the general improprieties permissible on the English stage at that time, and the fact= that locally great offence had quite recently been given in Scotland by the profane or immoral character of some of the pieces presented on the Scottish boards, and that Glasgow itself had had experience of a disorderly theatre already. Hardy playgoers braved opinion and listened to indifferent performances under the old wooden shed under the protection of troops. Boswell was then a student at the College. He made the acquaintance of Francis Gentleman, the actor. That house was not a licensed house. The new house was not to be a licensed house either. It is possible for one who thought a theatre generally, with due safeguards, a public benefit, to think that a particular theatre without those safeguards might constitute a public danger, especially in a university town.
Smith made a decided stand in behalf of the stricter interpretation on two delicate questions of professorial duty. Professor John Anderson was the founder of the Andersonian University. He was then Professor of Oriental Languages in Glasgow. In 1757, he became a candidate for the chair of Natural Philosophy. He afterwards filled this chair for so many years with great credit and success. The appointment lay with the professors. Professor[Pg 84] Anderson was one of the electors and could legally vote for himself. But Smith was felt the importance of keeping such appointments free from personal interest. He tabled a formal protest on three successive occasions against the intervention of Professor Anderson, who was a distinguished but headstrong professor in that particular election. He first protested against Anderson voting on a preliminary resolution respecting the election. He protested the second time against him taking part in the election itself. He protested a third time after the election, desiring it to be recorded expressly “that he did not vote in the election of Mr. Anderson as Professor of Natural Philosophy, not from objection to Mr. Anderson, in whose election he would willingly have concurred, but because he regarded the method of proceeding as irregular and possibly establishing a bad precedent.” As patrons of University chairs, the professors were trustees for the community. Each should be bound by a tacit self-denying ordinance, at least to the extent of refraining from actively using this public position to serve his private interest. Smith himself was one of his own electors to the Moral Philosophy chair. but then that election was uncontested, and Smith was not present at the meeting which appointed him.
The other personal question also arose out of circumstances which have their counterpart in Smith’s own history. Professor William Rouet was a Professor of Ecclesiastical and Civil History. In 1759, he made an engagement to travel abroad as tutor with Lord Hope, the eldest son of Lord Hopetoun. But when Lord Hopetoun wrote requesting leave of absence for Professor Rouet, the Senate by a majority refused to grant it. Smith was one of that majority. He took an active part in the subsequent transactions arising out of their decision. Rouet persists in going abroad in the teeth of the refusal. By a majority, the University deprive him of office for [Pg 85]his negligence. However, the Crown at first refused to appoint a successor, on the ground of informality in the act of deprivation. Lord Bute tells the Rector, Lord Erroll, that “the king’s orders” are that the business must be done over again de novo, or “else it may be of the worst consequences to the University.” The University take the opinion of eminent counsel, Ferguson of Pitfour and Burnet of Mountbodie (Monboddo), and are prepared to face the consequences threatened, but are eventually saved the trouble by the resignation of Rouet in 1761. Smith seems to bear a leading part in these transactions. He was part of the small committee appointed to draw up answers to the protest tabled by the minority of the Senatus. Lord Erroll communicated to Smith the intimation of Lord Bute, though he was not then Vice-Rector or Dean of Faculty. Smith and Professor Millar were sent through to Edinburgh to consult the two advocates.
Smith was probably on the best terms with Rouet. Rouet was an intimate friend of David Hume and a cousin of their common friend Baron Mure. It was not an uncommon practice for the Scotch universities then to sanction the absence of a professor on a tutorial engagement. Adam Ferguson left England as tutor to Lord Chesterfield while he was Professor of Moral Philosophy at Edinburgh. Dalzel was a tutor to Lord Maitland after he was Professor of Greek in Oxford. The Senate of Glasgow had already permitted Professor John Anderson to remain another winter in France with a son of the Primate of Ireland, when he was chosen Professor of Oriental Languages in 1756. Smith had concurred in giving the permission. But Anderson’s absence was absence to fulfill an already-existing engagement. It was like the absence granted to Smith in the first year of his own appointment. While Rouet’s absence was to fulfill a new one. Smith [Pg 86] held pluralities and absenteeism of that sort to be a wrong and mischievous subordination of the University’s interest to the purely private interest or convenience of the professors. They had too many temptations to accommodate one another by such arrangements at the expense of the College’s efficiency. His action in Rouet’s case and his own is entirely in the spirit of his criticism of the English universities in the Wealth of Nations.