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.
been published; a third (by the Abbe Morellet) had been written but not published, and a fourth was possibly under way, for it appeared in a few years.  The first and worst of these translations, moreover (Blavet’s), had already gone through three separate editions, after having originally run through a periodical in monthly sections for two years.  These are all tokens that the work was unquestionably influencing French opinion.

But if the French Revolution stopped for a time, as is most likely, the onward advance of Smith’s free-trade principles, it does not seem to have exercised the same effect on the actual sale of the book.  I do not know whether the successive editions were uniform in number of copies, but as many editions of the Wealth of Nations—­four English and one Irish—­appeared between the years 1791 and 1799 as between the years 1776 and 1786, and since none was called for from 1786 till 1791, the edition of 1786 took longer to sell off than the subsequent editions of 1791, 1793, and 1796.  It is quite possible—­indeed it is only natural—­that the wave of active antagonism which, according to Stewart’s testimony, rose against the principles of the book after the outbreak of the French Revolution would have helped on the sale of the book itself by keeping it more constantly under public attention, discussion, and, if you will, vituperation.  The fortune of a book, like that of a public man, is often made by its enemies.

But the very early influence of the Wealth of Nations in the English political world is established by much better proofs than quotations in Parliament.  It had actually shaped parts of the policy of the country years before it was ever publicly alluded to in either House.  The very first budget after its publication bore its marks.  Lord North was then on the outlook for fresh and comparatively unburdensome means of increasing the revenue, and obtained valuable assistance from the Wealth of Nations.  He imposed two new taxes in 1777, of which he got the idea there; one on man-servants, and the other on property sold by auction.  And the budget of 1778 owed still more important features to Smith’s suggestions, for it introduced the inhabited house duty so strongly recommended by him, and the malt tax.[253] Then in the following year 1779 we find Smith consulted by statesmen like Dundas and the Earl of Carlisle on the pressing and anxious question of giving Ireland free trade.  His answers still exist, and will appear later on in this work.[254]


[244] Hume MSS., R.S.E.

[245] Burton’s Life of Hume, ii. 487.

[246] Buckle’s History of Civilisation, ed. 1869, i. 214.

[247] Butler’s Reminiscences, i. 176.

[248] Parliamentary History, xxiii. 1152.

[249] Parliamentary History, xxix. 834.

[250] Ibid., xxx. 330, 334.

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Life of Adam Smith from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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