Adam Smith, 1723–1790


Biographical note

Philosopher and economist, born at Kirkcaldy, Fife, the son of the Controller of Customs there. His father died shortly before his birth. The first and only adventure in his tranquil life was his being kidnapped by gipsies. After being at the Grammar School of Kirkcaldy, he went to the University of Glasgow, whence he proceeded to Oxford On the conclusion of his University course he returned to Kirkcaldy, going subsequently to Edinburgh, where he was soon recognised as a man of unusual intellect. In 1751 he was appointed to the Chair of Logic at Glasgow, which he next year exchanged for that of Moral Philosophy, and in 1759 he published his Theory of the Moral Sentiments. He received in 1762 the degree of LL.D. from his University, and two years later resigned his chair and became travelling tutor to the young Duke of Buccleuch, accompanying him to the Continent. He remained for nearly a year in Paris, and made the acquaintance of the brilliant circle of savans in that city. Returning to Kirkcaldy in 1766 he lived there with his mother for nearly ten years in retirement and close study, the results of which were given to the world in 1776 in the publication of his epoch-making work, Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations [1776]. This book may be said to have founded the science of political economy, and to have created a new department of literature; and very few works have, to the same extent, influenced the practical history of the world. In 1778 Smith was made a Commissioner of Customs, and settled in Edinburgh; and in 1787 he was elected Lord Rector of the University of Glasgow. In addition to the works above mentioned, he wrote various essays on philosophical subjects, and an account of the last days of David Hume. The style of his works was plain and lucid, and he had a remarkable faculty of apt illustration.

[From A Short Biographical Dictionary of English Literature by John W. Cousin, 1910]

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