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.

During Smith’s residence in Toulouse the town was raging (as Abbe Colbert mentions in his letters to Hume) about one of the judgments of this Parliament, and for the most part, strangely enough, taking the Parliament’s side.  This was its judgment in the famous Calas case, to which Smith alludes in the last edition of his Theory.  Jean Calas, it may be remembered, had a son who had renounced his Protestantism in order to become eligible for admission to the Toulouse bar, and then worried himself so much about his apostasy that he committed suicide in his father’s house; and the father was unjustly accused before the Parliament of the town of having murdered the youth on account of his apostasy, was found guilty without a particle of proof, and then broken on the wheel and burnt on the 9th of March 1762.  But the great voice of Voltaire rose against this judicial atrocity, and after three years’ agitation procured a new trial before a special court of fifty masters of requests, of whom Turgot was one, on the 9th of March 1765, with the result that Calas was pronounced absolutely innocent of the crime he suffered for, and his family was awarded a compensation of 36,000 livres.  The king received them at court, and all France rejoiced in their rehabilitation except their own townsfolk in Toulouse.  On the 10th of April 1765—­a month after the verdict—­Abbe Colbert writes Hume:  “The people here would surprise you with their fanaticism.  In spite of all that has happened, they every man believe Calas to be guilty, and it is no use speaking to them on the subject."[153]

Smith makes use of the incident to illustrate the proposition that while unmerited praise gives no satisfaction except to the frivolous, unmerited reproach inflicts the keenest suffering even on men of exceptional endurance, because the injustice destroys the sweetness of the praise, but enormously embitters the sting of the condemnation.  “The unfortunate Calas,” he writes—­“a man of much more than ordinary constancy (broken upon the wheel and burnt at Tholouse for the supposed murder of his own son, of which he was perfectly innocent)—­seemed with his last breath to deprecate not so much the cruelty of the punishment, as the disgrace which the imputation must bring upon his memory.  After he had been broke, and when just going to be thrown into the fire, the monk who attended the execution exhorted him to confess the crime for which he had been condemned.  ‘My father,’ said Calas, ‘can you bring yourself to believe that I was guilty?’”


[140] Hume Correspondence, R.S.E.  Library.

[141] Ibid.

[142] Lord Beauchamp was the eldest son of the English Ambassador, the Earl of Hertford, and Dr. Trail, or properly Traill, was the Ambassador’s chaplain, who was made Bishop of Down and Connor soon afterwards, when Lord Hertford became Lord-Lieutenant of Ireland.

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