Life of Adam Smith eBook

John Rae (educator)
This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 551 pages of information about Life of Adam Smith.
that great work.  Hume, again, did not die till 1776, so that there were better and more “obvious reasons” than Scott imagined for Boswell’s omitting mention of a meeting between Johnson and Smith at Glasgow which never took place, and a collision between them about a famous letter which was not then written.  Time, place, and subject are all alike wrong, but these Scott might think but the mortal parts of the story, and he sometimes varied them in the telling himself.  Moore heard him tell it at his own table at Abbotsford somewhat differently from the version he gave to Croker.[125] But when so much is plainly the insensible creation of the imagination, what reliance can be placed on the remainder?  All we know is that apparently at their very first meeting those two philosophers did, in Strahan’s house in London in September 1761, have a personal altercation of an outrageous character, at which, if not the very words reported by Scott, then words quite as strong must manifestly have passed between them; that their host declared Johnson to be entirely in the wrong, and that Smith withdrew from the company, and would very possibly go, as the story relates, to another company, his Scotch friends at the British Coffee-House in Cockspur Street, then the great Scotch resort,—­a house which was kept by the sister of his friend Bishop Douglas, which was frequented much by Wedderburn, John Home, and others, and to which Smith’s own letters used to be addressed.

One thing remains to be said:  if the world has never been able to suffer this little morsel of scandal to be forgotten, the two principals in the feud themselves were able to forget it entirely.  Smith was at a later period in the habit of meeting Johnson constantly at the table of common friends in London, and was elected in 1775 a member of Johnson’s famous club, which would of course have been impossible—­and indeed in so small a society never have been thought of—­had the slightest remnant of animosity continued on either side.  Johnson, it is true, was still occasionally rude to Smith, as he was occasionally rude to every other member of the club; and certainly Smith never established with him anything of the cordial personal friendship he enjoyed with Burke, Gibbon, or Reynolds; but their common membership in the Literary Club is proof of the complete burial of their earlier quarrel.


[120] Stewart’s Life of Smith; Works, ed.  Hamilton, vol. x. p. 95.

[121] Boswell’s Johnson, ed.  Hill, iii. 331.

[122] Ibid. i. 427.

[123] Boswell’s Johnson, ed.  Hill, v. 369.

[124] Book IV. chap. vii.

[125] Russell’s Life of Moore, p. 338.



1763. Aet. 40

In 1763 the Rev. William Ward of Broughton, chaplain to the Marquis of Rockingham, was bringing out his Essay on Grammar, which Sir William Hamilton thought “perhaps the most philosophical essay on the English language extant,” and sent an abstract of it to Smith through a common friend, Mr. George Baird, to whom Smith wrote the following letter on the subject:—­[126]

Project Gutenberg
Life of Adam Smith from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
Follow Us on Facebook