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misunderstood him, Adam Smith did not by so saying mean to identify himself with irreligion, or even with skepticism.
Adam Smith's life, however, was not like Macaulay's, “a life without a lady:" there are vestiges of an early love affair, though but vague ones. Dugald Stewart - an estimable man in his way, but one of the most detestable of biographers, for he seems always thinking much more of his own words than of the facts he has to relate - says, “In the early part of Mr. Smith's life, it is well known to his friends that he was for several years attached to a young lady of great beauty and accomplishment." But he does not tell us who she was, and “has not been able to learn” “how far his addresses were favorably received,” or in fact anything about the matter. It seems, however, that the lady died unmarried; and in that case the unsentimental French novelists say that the gentleman is not often continuously in earnest, for that “a lady cannot be always saying No!” But whether such was the case with Adam Smith or not, we cannot tell : he was a lonely, bookish man, but that may tell both ways; the books may be opposed to the lady, but the solitude will preserve her remembrance.
If Adam Smith did abandon sentiment and devote himself to study, he has at least the excuse of having succeeded; scarcely any writer's work has had so much visible fruit. He has at least annexed his name to a great practical movement which is still in progress through the world : Free Trade has become in the popular mind almost as much his subject as the war of Troy was Homer's, - only curious inquirers think of teachers before the one, any more than of poets before the other. If all the speeches made at our Anti-Corn-Law League were examined, I doubt if any reference could be found to any preceding writer, though the name of Adam Smith was always on men's lips. And in other countries it is the same: “Smithism” is a name of reproach with all who
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reject such doctrines, and of respect with those who believe them; no other name is used equally or comparably by either. So long as the doctrines of Protection exist, - and they seem likely to do so as [long as] human interests are what they are and human nature is what it is, — Adam Smith will always be quoted as the great authority of Anti-Protectionism; as the man who first told the world the truth so that the world could learn and believe it.
And besides this great practical movement, Adam Smith started a great theoretical one also : on one side his teaching created Mr. Cobden and Mr. Bright, on another it rendered possible Ricardo and Mr. Mill. He is the founder of that analysis of the “great commerce” which in England we now call “political economy”; and which, dry, imperfect, and unfinished as it is, will be thought by posterity one of the most valuable and peculiar creations of English thought. As far as accuracy goes, Ricardo no doubt began this science; but his whole train of thought was suggested by Adam Smith, and he could not have written without him. So much theory and so much practice have rarely, perhaps never, sprung from a single mind.
Fortunate in many things, Adam Smith was above all things' fortunate in his age. Commerce had become far larger, far more striking, far more worldwide than it ever was before, and it needed an effectual explainer. A vigorous Scotchman, with the hard-headedness and the abstractions of his country, trained in England and familiar with France, was the species of man best fitted to explain it; and such a man was Adam Smith,
LORD ALTHORP AND THE REFORM ACT
(1876.) “ALTHORP carried the Bill,” such is the tradition of our fathers; "the Bill," of course, being the Bill to them, — the great Reform Act of 1832, which was like a little revolution in that generation, which really changed so much and which seemed to change so much more. To have been mainly concerned in passing so great a measure seems to many of the survivors of that generation, who remember the struggles of their youth and recall the enthusiasm of that time, almost the acme of fame; and in sober history such men will always be respectfully and gravely mentioned – but all romance has died away. The Bill is to us hardly more than other bills; it is one of a great many acts of Parliament which in this day, partly for good and partly for evil, have altered the ever-varying Constitution of England. The special charm, the charm which to the last you may see that Macaulay always felt about it, is all gone; the very history of it is forgotten. Which of the younger generation can say what was General Gascoigne's amendment, + or who were the “waverers, or even how many Reform “bills” in those years there were ? The events for which one generation cares most are often those of which the next knows least: they are too old to be matters of personal recollection and they are too new to be subjects of study, they have
* Memoir of John Charles, Viscount Althorp, third Earl Spencer. By the late Sir Denis Le Marchant, Bart. London: Richard Bentley & Son, 1876.
+ That the number of members for England and Wales should not be lessened. - ED.
passed out of memory and they have not got into the books. Of the well-informed young people about us, there are very many who scarcely know who Lord Althorp was.
And in another respect this biography has been unfortunate: it has been kept back too long. The Reform Act of 1867 has shed a painful light on the Reform Act of 1832, and has exhibited in real life what philosophers said were its characteristic defects. While these lingered in the books they were matters of dull teaching, and no one cared for them ; but now Mr. Disraeli has embodied them, and they are living among us. The traditional sing-song of mere eulogy is broken by a sharp question.
Those who study that time say, “Althorp, you tell us, passed the Bill; it was his frankness and his high character and the rest of his great qualities which did it: but was it good that he should have passed it? would it not have been better if he had not possessed those fine qualities ? was not some higher solution possible ? Knowing this bill by its fruits, largely good but also largely evil, might we not have had a better bill ? At any rate, if it could not be so, show why it could not be so; prove that the grave defects in the Act of 1832 were necessary defects; explain how it was that Althorp had no choice, and then we will admire him as you wish us.” But to this biographer-a man of that time, then in the House of Commons on the Whig side, and almost, as it were, on the skirts of the Bill - such questions would have seemed impossible: to him, the Act of 1832 is still wonderful and perfect, — the great measure which we carried in my youth; and as for explaining defects in it, he would have as soon thought of explaining defects in a revelation.
But if ever Lord Althorp's life is well written, it will, I think, go far to explain not only why the Reform Bill was carried, but why that bill is what it was.
He embodies all the characteristic virtues which enable Englishmen to effect well and easily great changes in politics: their essential fairness, their “large roundabout common-sense,
"* their courage, and their disposition rather to give up something than to take the uttermost farthing. But on the other hand, also, he has all the characteristic English defects: their want of intellectual and guiding principle, their even completer want of the culture which would give that principle, their absorption in the present difficulty, and their hand-to-mouth readiness to take what solves it without thinking of other consequences. And I am afraid the moral of those times is, that these English qualities as a whole - merits and defects together - are better suited to an early age of politics than to a later. As long as materials are deficient, these qualities are most successful in hitting off simple expedients, in adapting old things to new uses, and in extending ancient customs; they are fit for instantaneous little creations, and admirable at bit-by-bit growth. But when, by the incessant application of centuries, these qualities have created an accumulated mass of complex institutions, they are apt to fail unless aided by others very different. The instantaneous origination of obvious expedients is of no use when the field is already covered with the heterogeneous growth of complex past expedients; bit-by-bit development is out of place unless you are sure which bit should and which bit should not be developed; the extension of customs may easily mislead when there are so many customs; no immense and involved subject can be set right except by faculties which can grasp what is immense and scrutinize what is involved. But mere common-sense is here matched with more than it can comprehend, like a schoolboy in the differential calculus; and absorption in the present difficulty is an evil, not a good, - for what is wanted is, that you should be able to see many things at once and take in their bearing, not
* See note to page 103, Vol. ii.