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.
of Edinburgh.  The book was never properly published, but there were a few more copies printed than was necessary for the Commission, for whose use it was compiled.
One of these I obtained by the particular favour of Mr. Turgot, the late Controller-General of the Finances.  I have heard but of three copies in Great Britain:  one belongs to a noble lord, who obtained it by connivance, as he told me;[301] one is in the Secretary of State’s office, and the third belongs to a private gentleman.  How these two were obtained I know not, but suspect it was in the same manner.  If any accident should happen to my book, the loss is perfectly irreparable.  When Mr. Sinclair comes to Edinburgh I shall be very happy to communicate to him not only that book, but everything else I have upon the subject, both printed and manuscript, and am, with the highest respect for his character, his most obedient humble servant,


     EDINBURGH, 24th November 1778.[302]

The Memoires was printed in 1768, but it may be reasonably inferred, from Smith’s account of the extreme difficulty of getting a copy, that he only obtained his in 1774, on the advent of Turgot to power.  If that be so, much in the chapters on taxation in the Wealth of Nations must have been written in London after that date.

Sir John’s biographer quotes a passage from another letter of Smith in connection with his correspondent’s financial studies.  This letter—­which Archdeacon Sinclair describes as a “holograph letter in six folio pages”—­is no longer extant, but it concluded with the following remarks on the taxation of the necessaries and luxuries of the poor:—­

I dislike all taxes that may affect the necessary expenses of the poor.  They, according to circumstances, either oppress the people immediately subject to them, or are repaid with great interest by the rich, i.e. by their employers in the advanced wages of their labour.  Taxes on the luxuries of the poor, upon their beer and other spirituous liquors, for example, as long as they are so moderate as not to give much temptation to smuggling, I am so far from disapproving, that I look upon them as the best of sumptuary laws.
I could write a volume upon the folly and the bad effects of all the legal encouragements that have been given either to the linen manufacture or to the fisheries.—­I have the honour to be, with most sincere regard, my dear friend, most affectionately yours,

     ADAM SMITH.[303]


[295] Stewart’s Works, x. 46.

[296] Ibid., v. 256.

[297] Mrs. Drummond is Lord Kames’s wife.  She had succeeded to the estate of her father, Mr. Drummond of Blair Drummond, and having along with her husband assumed her father’s surname in addition to her own, was now Mrs. Home Drummond.  It may perhaps be necessary to add that the title of a Scotch judge is not extended, even by courtesy, to his wife.

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