Adam Smith Smith was a son of the controller of the customs at Kirkcaldy, Fife, Scotland. The exact date of his birth is unknown, but he was baptized at Kirkcaldy on June 5, 1723, his father having died some six months previously. At around the age of 4, he was kidnapped by a band of Gypsies, but he was quickly rescued by his uncle and returned to his mother. Smith's biographer, John Rae, commented wryly that he feared Smith would have made "a poor Gypsy."
At the age of fourteen, Smith proceeded to the University of Glasgow, studying moral philosophy under "the never-to-be-forgotten" (as Smith called him) Francis Hutcheson. Here Smith developed his strong passion for liberty, reason and free speech. In 1740 he entered Balliol College, Oxford, but as William Robert Scott has said, "the Oxford of his time gave little if any help towards what was to be his lifework," and he left the university in 1746. In 1748 he began delivering public lectures in Edinburgh under the patronage of Lord Kames. Some of these dealt with rhetoric and belles-lettres, but later he took up the subject of "the progress of opulence," and it was then, in his middle or late 20s, that he first expounded the economic philosophy of "the obvious and simple system of natural liberty" which he was later to proclaim to the world in his Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations. About 1750 he met David Hume, who became one of the closest of his many friends. With others who played an important role in the emergence of the Scottish Enlightenment, he frequented The Poker Club of Edinburgh.
In 1751 Smith was appointed professor of logic at the University of Glasgow, transferring in 1752 to the chair of moral philosophy. His lectures covered the fields of ethics, rhetoric, jurisprudence, political economy, and "police and revenue". In 1759 he published his The Theory of Moral Sentiments, embodying some of his Glasgow lectures. This work, which established Smith's reputation in his day, was concerned with how human communication depends on sympathy between agent and spectator (that is, the individual and other members of society). His analysis of language evolution was somewhat superficial, as shown only 14 years later by a more rigorous examination of primitive language evolution by Lord Monboddo in his Of the Origin and Progress of Language. Smith's capacity for fluent, persuasive, if rather rhetorical argument, is much in evidence. He bases his explanation, not as the third Lord Shaftesbury and Hutcheson had done, on a special "moral sense", nor (as Hume did) on utility, but on sympathy.
Smith now began to give more attention to jurisprudence and economics in his lecture and less to his theories of morals. An impression can be obtained as to the development of his ideas on political economy from the notes of his lectures taken down by a student in about 1763 which were later edited by Edwin Cannan, and from what Scott, its discoverer and publisher, describes as "An Early Draft of Part of The Wealth of Nations", which he dates about 1763. Cannan's work appeared as Lectures on Justice, Police, Revenue and Arms. A fuller version was published as Lectures on Jurisprudence in the Glasgow Edition of 1976.
At the end of 1763 Smith obtained a lucrative offer from Charles Townshend (who had been introduced to Smith by David Hume), to tutor his stepson, the young Duke of Buccleuch. Smith subsequently resigned from his professorship and from 1764-66 traveled with his pupil, mostly in France, where he came to know intellectual leaders such as Turgot, Jean D'Alembert, AndrĂ© Morellet, HelvĂ©tius and, in particular, Francois Quesnay, the head of the Physiocratic school whose work he respected greatly. On returning home to Kirkcaldy he devoted much of the next ten years to his magnum opus, An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations, which appeared in 1776. It was very well-received and popular, and Smith became famous. In 1778 he was appointed to a comfortable post as commissioner of customs in Scotland and went to live with his mother in Edinburgh. He died there on July 17, 1790, after a painful illness and was buried in Canongate Churchyard, Royal Mile, Edinburgh. He had apparently devoted a considerable part of his income to numerous secret acts of charity.
Smith's literary executors were two old friends from the Scottish academic world; physicist/chemist Joseph Black and pioneering geologist James Hutton. Smith left behind many notes and some unpublished material, but gave instructions to destroy anything that was not fit for publication. He mentioned an early unpublished History of Astronomy as probably suitable, and it duly appeared in 1795, along with other material, as Essays on Philosophical Subjects.