Obrázky stránek
PDF
ePub

second, he illustrated the principles of ethics, in a series of lectures which were afterwards embodied in his published work on the “Theory of Moral Sentiments;" third, he discoursed on that branch of morality which relates to the administration of justice; and, last, coming out upon the field with which his name is now identified, he examined those political regulations which are founded, not upon principles of justice, but upon considerations of expediency, and which are calculated to increase the riches, the power, and the prosperity of the State. His notes of his lectures he himself destroyed when he felt death approaching, and we are left to conjecture what the main features of his treatment were, from the recorded recollections of his pupils and from those published works which remain as fragments of the great plan. These fragments consist of the “Theory of Moral Sentiments," the "Wealth of Nations," and "Considerations Concerning the First Formation of Languages;” besides which there are, to quote another's enumeration, “a very curious history of astronomy, left imperfect, and another fragment on the history of ancient physics, which is a kind of sequel to that part of the history of astronomy which relates to ancient astronomy; then a similar essay on the ancient logic and metaphysics; then another on the nature and development of the fine, or,

as he calls them, the imitative, arts, painting, poetry, and music, in which was meant to have been included a history of the theatre all forming part, his executors tell us, ‘of a plan he had once formed for giving a connected history of the liberal and elegant arts;' part, that is to continue the quotation from Mr. Bagehot), of the “immense design of showing the origin and development of cultivation and law, or ... of saying how, from being a savage, man rose to be a Scotchman."

The wideness of view and amazing variety of illustration that characterized his treatment, in developing the several parts of this vast plan, can easily be inferred from an examination of the “Wealth of Nations."

“The ‘Wealth of Nations,'” declares Mr. Buckle, from whom, for obvious reasons, I prefer to quote, “displays a breadth of treatment which those who cannot sympathize with, are very likely to ridicule. The phenomena, not only of wealth, but also of society in general, classified and arranged under their various forms; the origin of the division of labor, and the consequences which that division has produced; the circumstances which gave rise to the invention of money, and to the subsequent changes in its value; the history of those changes traced in different ages, and the history of the relations which the precious metals bear

to each other; an examination of the connection between wages and profits, and of the laws which govern the rise and fall of both; another examination of the way in which these are concerned, on the one hand with the rent of land, and, on the other hand, with the price of commodities; an inquiry into the reason why profits vary in different trades, and at different times; a succinct but comprehensive view of the progress of towns in Europe since the fall of the Roman Empire; the fluctuations, during several centuries, in the prices of the food of the people, and a statement of how it is, that, in different stages of society, the relative cost of meat and of land varies; the history of corporation laws and of municipal enactments, and their bearing on the four great classes of apprentices, manufacturers, merchants, and landlords; an account of the immense power and riches formerly enjoyed by the clergy, and of the manner in which, as society advances, they gradually lose their exclusive privileges; the nature of religious dissent, and the reason why the clergy of the Established Church can never contend with it on terms of equality, and, therefore, call on the State to help them, and wish to persecute when they cannot persuade; why some sects profess more ascetic principles, and others more luxurious ones; how it was, that, during the feudal times, the nobles ac

quired their power, and how that power has, ever since, been gradually diminishing; how the rights of territorial jurisdiction originated, and how they died away; how the sovereigns of Europe obtained their revenue, what the sources of it are, and what classes are most heavily taxed in order to supply it; the cause of certain virtues, such as hospitality, flourishing in barbarous ages, and decaying in civilized ones; the influence of inventions and discoveries in altering the distribution of power among the various classes of society; a bold and masterly sketch of the peculiar sort of advantages which Europe derived from the discovery of America and of the passage round the Cape; the origin of universities, their degeneracy from the original plan, the corruption which has gradually crept over them, and the reason why they are so unwilling to adopt improvements, and to keep pace with the wants of the age; a comparison between public and private education, and an estimate of their relative advantages; these, and a vast number of other subjects, respecting the structure and development of society, such as the feudal system, slavery, emancipation of serfs, origin of standing armies and of mercenary troops, effects produced by tithes, laws of primogeniture, sumptuary laws, international treaties concerning trade, rise of European banks, national debts, influence of

dramatic representations over opinions, colonies, poor-laws--all topics of a miscellaneous character, and many of them diverging from each other-all are fused into one great system, and irradiated by the splendor of one great genius. Into that dense and disorderly mass, did Adam Smith introduce symmetry, method, and law."

In fact, it is a book of digressions--digressions characterized by more order and method, but by little more compunction, than the wondrous digressions of Tristram Shandy.

It is interesting to note that even this vast miscellany of thought, the “Wealth of Nations," systematized though it be, was not meant to stand alone as the exposition of a complete system; it was only a supplement to the “Theory of Moral Sentiments;” and the two together constituted only chapters in that vast book of thought which their author would have written. Adam Smith would have grouped all things that concern either the individual or the social life of man under the several greater principles of motive and action observable in human conduct. His method throughout is, therefore, necessarily abstract and deductive. In the “Wealth of Nations,” he ignores the operation of love, of benevolence, of sympathy, and of charity in filling life with kindly influences, and concentrates his attention exclu

« PředchozíPokračovat »