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Item 223 - Adam Smith Catalog 444 (Jan 2015)

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Scottish moral professor and a respected pioneer of political economy (1723–1790) whose magnum opus, The Wealth of Nations, is considered the first modern work of economics. Very rare ALS, one page both sides, 7 x 9, March 10, 1759. Letter to Lord Shelburne updating him on the progress of his son Thomas. In full: “I have been very much out of my Duty in having so long neglected to write to your Lordship who have trusted me with so very important charge as the Education of Mr. Fitzmaurice. I waited till I could say something to your Lordship with regard to what I expected of him which might be depended upon, & I can now venture to assure your Lordship that the fault ought to be laid to my charge if he does not turn out at least an uncommonly good scholar. There is not a poor boy in the college who is supported by charity & studies for bread that is more punctual in his attendance upon every part of college discipline. He attends different Masters for Greek, Latin & Philosophy five hours a day & is besides employed with me at home between two & three hours, in going over the subjects of those different lectures. He reads too every day something by himself & a good deal on Saturdays & Sundays when he has most leisure. He has never missed a single hour, except two days that he was ill of a very violent Cholic, occasioned by cold as I suspect by the want of his usual exercise, which I find, was very violent at Eton, & for which he has at present no leisure. It was with the greatest difficulty that I could keep him at home home [sic] for those two days. He is perfectly sober, eats no supper, or what is next to none, a roasted apple or some such trifle & drinks scarce anything but water. There is the more merit in this part of his conduct as it is the effect of Resolution not of habit for I find he had been accustomed to a different way of living at Eton. But your Lordship & my Lady Shelburne good advice, I understand, produced this change. I can assure your Lordship that I have conversed with him for these two months with the greatest intimacy & that I find him every way agreeable; full of spirit & sensibility, two qualities which are very rarely joined together. I have a great deal more to say to your Lordship, but an unexpected call obliges me to conclude this letter abruptly. I shall write to your Lordship again…at greater length. I had delayed writing so long that I was ashamed to delay it any longer so snatched the first quarter of an hour which business of this afforded me to scrawl this letter.” Accompanied by a detached second integral page, docketed on the reverse by Shelburne, “March 10, 1759, Mr. Smith Morality Professor of Glasgow, his first letter to me concerning my son Thomas under his care.” In fine condition, with intersecting folds (and a few extra vertical folds). Accompanied by an attractive custom-made leatherbound clamshell case.

After completing his studies at University of Glasgow and Oxford, Smith returned to Glasgow to teach, finding a place in the Philosophical Society of Edinburgh and securing the position as head of Moral Philosophy within his first three years. Having found the entitled student body of Oxford unmotivated and the lax professorship disappointing, he was happy to return to the strict regimen and high standards of Glasgow, as highlighted in his description of Thomas FitzMaurice’s rigorous course load: “He attends different Masters for Greek, Latin & Philosophy five hours a day & is besides employed with me at home between two & three hours, in going over the subjects of those different lectures.” The year that this letter was written, Smith published his Theory of Moral Sentiments, focusing on the dependence of human morality on what he called ‘mutual sympathy’ (which can be likened to the idea of modern-day empathy). The work made him wildly popular, drawing students from all over Europe to enroll at Glasgow and sparking a shift in his lectures from moral theory to jurisprudence and economics, beginning his career as an internationally recognized intellectual. Written to John FitzMaurice, 1st Earl of Shelburne and a Member of Parliament—later joined in the House by his son Thomas, the subject of this letter—this is an absolutely remarkable and noteworthy letter entirely in Smith’s hand from the start of his rise to fame. Pre-certified John Reznikoff/PSA/DNA.

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