1762
ENGLISH POETRY 1579-1830: SPENSER AND THE TRADITION

Lectures on Rhetoric and Belles Lettres 13. Monday, 20 December, 1762.

Lectures on Rhetoric and Belles Lettres delivered in the University of Glasgow by Adam Smith. Reported by a Student in 1762-63. Edited with an Introduction by John M. Lothian.

Adam Smith


Adam Smith makes a brief comparison between Spenser and Shakespeare as descriptive poets. Smith's lectures, eventually published from a student's notes in 1963, were famous in their time and played a role in establishing the first professorship of literature at the University of Edinburgh, a position held first held by Hugh Blair. Unlike Adam Smith, Blair does not mention Spenser in his published lectures.

Lecture 12 mentions an imitation of Spenser on stage: "Even when there is no burlesque, the applying grand expressions, or such as seem not easily applicable to the subject, pleases us from the same cause. Thus Mr Gray's description of the appearance of Harlequin on the stage will always be agreeable. The art required in adapting the style and manner and versification of Spenser to an object so different gives us a great opinion of the capacity and skill of the writer" p. 61.

This has not been identified; the name may have been garbled in transmission.

John Millar: "There was no situation in which the abilities of Mr. Smith appeared to greater advantage than as a professor. In delivering his lectures he trusted almost entirely to extemporary elocution. His manner, though not graceful, was plain and unaffected, and as he seemed to be always interested in the subject, he never failed to interest his hearers" ca. 1793; in Moulton, Library of Literary Criticism (1901-05) 4:54.

John Gibson Lockhart: "The most remarkable literary characters which Scotland produced last century, shewed merely (as I have already said) the force of her intellect, as applied to matters of reasoning. The generation of Hume, Smith, &c., left matters of feeling very much unexplored, and probably considered Poetry merely as an elegant and tasteful appendage to the other branches of literature, with which they themselves were more conversant. Their disquisitions on morals were meant to be the vehicles of ingenious theories — not of convictions of sentiment. They employed, therefore, even in them, only the national intellect, and not the national modes of feeling. The Scottish literati of the present day have inherited the ideas of these men, and acted upon them in a great measure — with scarcely more than the one splendid exception of Walter Scot" Peter's Letters to his Kinsfolk (1819) 2:360-61.




That way of expressing any quality of an object which does it by describing the several parts that constitute the quality we want to express, may be called the direct method. When, again, we do it by describing the effects this quality produces on those who behold it, [this] may be called the indirect method. The latter in most cases is by far the best. We see accordingly Shakespeare's descriptions are greatly more animated than those of Spenser. Shakespeare, as he wrote in dialogues, had it always in his power to make the persons of the dialogue relate the effects any object had upon them. Spenser describes everything directly, and has in adhering to this plan described several objects directly which no other author attempted in that manner. Pindar, Homer, and Milton never attempt to describe music directly; they always do it by describing the effects it produced on other creatures. Pindar relates the effects it had not only on the earthly beings, but even goes so to the Heavens and to Tartarus for objects that might strengthen this description. But this, which none of these great men ever attempted, Spenser has not only attempted, but has succeeded in, in the account of the Knight of Temperance destroying the Bower of Bliss. . . .


[p. 63]