Walter Bagehot’s view of Adam Smith: some closing thoughts

Although Walter Bagehot’s 1876 Adam Smith essay (see here) is succinct by scholarly standards (just 25 pages), it deserves to be included in the pantheon of Adam Smith biographies not just for its content but also for its literary style. I will thus conclude my review of “Adam Smith as a Person” by sharing my three favorite passages from the last few pages of Bagehot’s beautiful and erudite essay, where he refers to the English empiricist Francis Bacon (1561–1626), the Scottish abolitionist Zachary Macaulay (1768–1838), and the 8th century B.C. Greek poet Homer:

  1. Bacon: “His mind was full of his great scheme of the origin and history of all cultivation; [but] as happens to so many men, though scarcely ever on so great a scale, aiming at one sort of reputation, he attained another. To use Lord Bacon’s perpetual illustration, like Saul, he ‘went in search of his father’s assess, and he found a kingdom’.” (Bagehot 1876, p. 40; para. 35)
  2. Macaulay: “… he never voluntarily wrote of religious subjects, or, as far as we know, spoke of them. Nothing … can repel a man more from such things than what Macaulay called the ‘bray of Exeter Hall’.” (p. 41; para. 37)
  3. Homer: “Free trade has become in the popular mind almost as much his [Adam Smith’s] subject as the war of Troy’s was Homer’s ….” (p. 42; para. 39)

Perhaps Bagehot’s greatest homage to Adam Smith appears toward the end of his essay, where he writes: “So much theory and so much practice have rarely, perhaps never, sprang from a single mind.” (p. 42; para. 40)

Image credit: Sophie Neilan

About F. E. Guerra-Pujol

When I’m not blogging, I am a business law professor at the University of Central Florida.
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