Sunday, August 21, 2005

Take a Walk in Adam's Footsteps

I am often asked by correspondents and students intending to visit Edinburgh for the first time, what should they look for and where should they look for it. I always recommend a visit to the grave of Adam Smith, though with some reticence as it has been sorely neglected over the years, and perhaps a look at the Panmure House, off the High Street, where he lived with his mother and his cousin in his last years (all three died there).

There is talk of the grave site being cleaned up and of a statue to Adam Smith being erected and sited opposite where he worked (uselessly) as a Commissioner of Customs. The money for cleaning the grave site has been offered by a private person and it is going the rounds in the usual bureaucratic labyrinth. The statue is under the careful management of the Adam Smith Institute ( who are seeking donations for its cost and upkeep. You might also wish to read their daily blog: (

However, in today’s “Scotland on Sunday” (part of the Scotsman group), there is a feature announcing publication of a book on the local scene in respect of many famous writers who have worked here (The Literary Traveller in Edinburgh by Allan Foster, Mainstream Publishing, £12.99

I have extracted some short entries of those associated with Adam Smith to give you a flavour of a short tour you could undertake, all within walking distance. Purchase the book; a good read. Allan Foster knows his literary Edinburgh and is a fine writer too.

1 ROBERT BURNS Lady Stairs Close (was Baxter's Close)
THE most celebrated of Scottish poets. Following the success of the first edition of his poems in July 1786, the Kilmarnock edition of Poems Chiefly in the Scottish Dialect, Burns was eager to return to print as soon as possible. But the Kilmarnock printer insisted on full payment in advance. Unable to pay, he tried for a second edition in Edinburgh, living in Baxter's Close, off Lawnmarket. In his pocket Burns carried a sheaf of introductory letters from the Masonic brothers back in Ayrshire, and within a week, doors opened and his star began to rise.

[Smith and Burns met at meetings of the Masonic lodge in Edinburgh. Burns read Smith's "Moral Sentiments" and it inspired his poem To A Louse].

2 DAVID HUME Riddle's Court (was Land), 322 High Street
SCOTTISH philosopher, historian and political thinker's first permanent Edinburgh home. It was in this house that Hume wrote his Political Discourses (1752) and started on his monumental History of England (5 volumes, 1754-62) and An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding (1748). In 1753, he moved to Jack's Land, now renumbered 229 Canongate, where he lived for nine years, and where he completed his History. He lived out his life as a man of letters on the corner of St Andrew Square. He is buried in Old Calton Burial Ground, Waterloo Place.

[Smith and Hume were close friends and correspondents from 1749-1776, when Hume died.]

3 DR JOHNSON Boyd's Inn (now Entry), Canongate
THE point at which Dr Johnson arrived in Edinburgh in 1773. On Saturday, August 14, 1773, James Boswell received a note at his house at 501 James Court, off the Lawnmarket, that Dr Samuel Johnson had arrived at Boyd's Inn at the head of the Canongate. Johnson had come to Edinburgh to begin his tour of Scotland and the Hebrides, a journey which would eventually produce two classic works: Johnson's A Journey to the Western Islands of Scotland (1775) and Boswell's Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides (1785).

[Smith and Johnson met but never got on well together; Smith had critcised Johnson's dictionary in the Edinburgh Review in 1755; James Boswll attended a series of Smith's Moral Philosophy lectures at the University of Glasgow and tried to reconcile Smith and Johnson over the years.]

4 CANONGATE KIRKYARD Grave of Adam Smith
ADAM Smith (1723-90), Scottish philosopher and economist. Best known for his influential book The Wealth of Nations. Born Kirkcaldy, Fife, he is regarded as the world's first political economist.

[Don't miss a visit Smith's residence in Panmure Court, off the High Street, a couple of hundred yards from where he is buried.]

14 SIR WALTER SCOTT AND ROBERT BURNS Sciennes Hill House, Sciennes House Place
FIRST and only meeting of Walter Scott and Robert Burns. Scott met Burns only once in his life: when he was a lad of 15 in 1786-7, here, the residence of philosopher and historian Adam Ferguson. A plaque on the restored remains of the mid-18th-century Sciennes Hill House (aka Sciennes Hall) commemorates it. Partly demolished in 1868, it is the back of the original house that faces the street today, and the modified front faces the rear. Originally, it was the home of Robert Biggar, who lost his fortune after investing in the Darien Scheme.

[Robert Burns as above. Adam Ferguson had a rocky relationship with Adam Smith; he was also a friend of David Hume. Ferguson and Smith socialised over the years, on and off, about what is not clear, though it may be to do with accusations from Ferguson that Smith had 'borrowed' his ideas from others (see the appendix in 'Adam Smith's Lost Legacy'). Ferguson set the differences aside when Smith was dying and attended him in his last days.]


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