Images de page
PDF
ePub

“ tive you are in the wrong in many

of

your speculations, especially where you have the misfortune to differ from me.

All these are reasons for our meeting, and I wish you would make me some reasonable proposal for that pur

pose. There is no habitation in the island of Inchkeith, “ otherwise I should challenge you to meet me on that spot, and neither of us ever to leave the place, till we were ful

ly agreed on all points of controversy. I expect General

Conway here to-morrow, whom I shall attend to Rose“ neath, and I shall remain there a few days. On my re“ turn, I hope to find a letter from you, containing a bold

acceptance of this defiance.”

At length (in the beginning of the year 1776) Mr Smith accounted to the world for his long retreat, by the publication of his Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the “ Wealth of Nations.” A letter of congratulation on this event, from Mr Hume, is now before me. It is dated 1st April 1776 (about six months before Mr Hume’s death), and discovers an amiable solicitude about his friend's literary fame.

Euge! Belle ! Dear Mr Smith: I am much pleas“ed with your performance, and the perusal of it has taken

me from a state of great anxiety. It was a work of so “ much expectation, by yourself, by your friends, and by the

public, that I trembled for its appearance ; but am now “ much relieved. Not but that the reading of it necessarily requires so much attention, and the public is disposed to give so little, that I shall still doubt for some time of its being at first very popular. But it has depth and solidity " and acuteness, and is so much illustrated by curious facts, " that it must at last take the public attention. It is pro

bably much improved by your last abode in London. If “ you were here at my fire-side, I should dispute some of your principles.

But these, and a hundred other points, are fit only to be discussed in conversation. I hope it will be soon; for I am in a very “ bad state of health, and cannot afford a long delay.”

[ocr errors]

Of a book which is now so universally known as “ The “ Wealth of Nations,” it might be considered perhaps as superfluous to give a particular analysis; and, at any rate, the limits of this essay make it impossible for me to attempt it at present. A few remarks, however, on the object and tendency of the work, may, I hope, be introduced without impropriety. The history of a philosopher's life can contain little more than the history of his speculations; and in the case of such an author as Mr Smith, whose studies were systematically directed from his youth to subjects of the last importance to human happiness, a review of his writings, while it serves to illustrate the peculiarities of his genius, affords the most faithful picture of his character as a man.

SECTION IV.

Of the Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of

Nations *

An historical view of the different forms under which human affairs have appeared in different ages and nations, naturally suggests the question, Whether the experience of former times may not now furnish some general principles to enlighten and direct the policy of future legislators ? The discussion, however, to which this question leads, is of singular difficulty: as it requires an accurate analysis of by far the most complicated class of phenomena that can possibly engage our attention, those which result from the intricate and often the imperceptible mechanism of political society ;a subject of observation which seems, at first view, so little commensurate to our faculties, that it has been generally regarded with the same passive emotions of wonder and submission, with which, in the material world, we survey the effects produced by the mysterious and uncontroulable operation of physical causes.

* The length to which this Memoir has already extended, together with some other reasons which it is unnecessary to mention here, have induced me, in printing the fol. lowing section, to confine myself to a much more general view of the subject than I once intended. See Note (D.)

It is fortunate that upon this, as upon many other occasions, the difficulties which had long baffled the efforts of solitary genius begin to appear less formidable to the united exertions of the race; and that in proportion as the experience and the reasonings of different individuals are brought to bear upon the same objects, and are combined in such a manner as to illustrate and to limit each other, the science of politics assumes more and more that systematical form which encourages and aids the labours of future inquirers.

In prosecuting the science of politics on this plan, little assistance is to be derived from the speculations of ancient philosophers, the greater part of whom, in their political inquiries, confined their attention to a comparison of the different forms of government, and to an examination of the provisions they made for perpetuating their own existence, and for extending the glory of the state. It was reserved for modern times to investigate those universal principles of justice and of expediency, which ought, under every form of government, to regulate the social order; and of which the object is, to make as equitable a distribution as possible, among all the different members of a community, of the advantages arising from the political union.

The invention of printing was perhaps necessary to prepare the way for these researches. In those departments of literature and of science, where genius finds within itself the materials of its labours; in poetry, in pure geometry, and in some branches of moral philosophy; the ancients have not only laid the foundations on which we are to build, but have left great and finished models for our imitation. But in physics, where our progress depends on an immense collection of facts, and on a combination of the accidental lights daily struck out in the innumerable walks of observation and experiment; and in politics, where the materials of our theories are equally scattered, and are collected and arranged with still greater difficulty, the means of communication afforded by the press have, in the course of two centuries, accelerated the progress of the human mind, far beyond what the most sanguine hopes of our predecessors could have imagined.

The progress already made in this science, inconsiderable as it is in comparison of what may be yet expected, has been sufficient to shew, that the happiness of mankind depends, not on the share which the people possesses, directly or inderectly, in the enactment of laws, but on the equity and expediency of the laws that are enacted. The share which the people possesses in the government is interesting chiefly to the small number of men whose object is the attainment of political importance; but the equity and expediency of the

« PrécédentContinuer »