1803 ca. ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Adam Smith

Alexander Carlyle, 1803 ca.; in Autobiography of Dr. Alexander Carlyle (1910) 292-94.



Adam Smith, though perhaps only second to David in learning and ingenuity, was far inferior to him in conversational talents. In that of public speaking they were equal — David never tried it, and I never heard Adam but once, which was at the first meeting of the Select Society, when he opened up the design of the meeting. His voice was harsh and enunciation thick, approaching to stammering. His conversation was not colloquial, but like lecturing, in which I have been told he was not deficient, especially when he grew warm. He was the most absent man in company that I ever saw, moving his lips, and talking to himself, and smiling, in the midst of large companies. If you awaked him from his reverie and made him attend to the subject of conversation, he immediately began a harangue, and never stopped till he told you all he knew about it, with the utmost philosophical ingenuity. He knew nothing of characters, and yet was ready to draw them on the slightest invitation. But when you checked him or doubted, he retracted with the utmost ease, and contradicted all he had been saying. His journey abroad with the Duke of Buccleuch cured him in part of those foibles; but still he appeared very unfit for the intercourse of the world as a travelling tutor. But the Duke was a character, both in point of heart and understanding, to surmount all disadvantages — he could learn nothing ill from a philosopher of the utmost probity and benevolence. If he [Smith] had been more a man of address and of the world, he might perhaps have given a ply to the Duke's fine mind, which was much better when left to its own

energy. Charles Townshend had chosen Smith, not for his fitness for the purpose, but for his own glory in having sent an eminent Scottish philosopher to travel with the Duke.

Smith had from the Duke a bond for a life annuity of 300, till an office of equal value was obtained for him in Britain. When the Duke got him appointed a Commissioner of the Customs in Scotland, he went out to Dalkeith with the bond in his pocket, and, offering it to the Duke, told him that he thought himself bound in honour to surrender the bond, as his Grace had now got him a place of 500. The Duke answered that Mr. Smith seemed more careful of his own honour than of his, which he found wounded by the proposal. Thus acted that good Duke, who, being entirely void of vanity, did not value himself on splendid generosities. He had acted in much the same manner to Dr. Hallam, who had been his tutor at Eton; for when Mr. Townshend proposed giving Hallam an annuity of 100 when the Duke was taken from him, "No," says he, "it is my desire that Hallam may have as much as Smith, it being a great mortification to him that he is not to travel with me."

Though Smith had some little jealousy in his temper, he had the most unbounded benevolence. His smile of approbation was truly captivating. His affectionate temper was proved by his dutiful attendance on his mother. One instance I remember which marked his character. John Home and he, travelling down from London together [in 1776], met David Hume going to Bath for the recovery of his health. He anxiously wished them both to return with him: John agreed, but Smith excused himself on account of the state of his mother's health, whom he needs must see. Smith's fine writing is chiefly displayed in his book on Moral Sentiment, which is the pleasantest and most eloquent book on the subject. His Wealth of Nations, from which he was judged to be an inventive genius of the first order, is tedious and full of repetition. His separate essays in the second volume have the air of being occasional pamphlets, without much force or determination. On political subjects his opinions were not very sound.