Adam Smith’s Literary Library

This research project examines the literary works in Adam Smith’s personal library and how they manifest in his own writings. I am writing, in July 2018, from the beautiful city of Edinburgh, where I am accessing the Adam Smith collection at the University of Edinburgh’s Centre for Research Collections. I am very grateful for the support of the Hugh Campbell and Marion Alice Small Fund for Scottish Studies Graduate Student Scholarship for funding this work, and for the University of Victoria Faculty of Humanities for its support.

Although most of my time in Edinburgh will be spent in the CRC, I cannot resist the opportunity to take advantage of the opportunities for literary tourism that the city offers. I plan to blog about my travels here and will develop interactive maps to allow readers to retrace my steps.

Day 1: From Victoria to Edinburgh

My journey from Victoria to Edinburgh began at 4 a.m. PDT and ended at 4 p.m. BST, and involved a car ride, three planes, a bus, a train, and a taxi. This was my first transatlantic journey, and although I was excited to finally be visiting the UK, the jet lag and exhaustion meant I could do nothing more in this day than stumble to the local Thai restaurant for dinner and fall into bed.

Day 2: The Royal Mile

After a badly needed full night’s sleep, I decided to explore the city a bit, beginning with the Royal Mile. I decided to embrace my role as a tourist and do some window shopping for tartan scarves (I’m on a quest for a Baird tartan to bring home) and tweet handbags. I picked up a few brochures for tours and events–more to come on these outings–and explored a few of the closes dotting the street. It was jarring to see such old and interesting alleys lined with rubbish and recycling bins, but I suppose one gets used to daily encounters with history living here in a way one does not living in a young city like Victoria. My slight feelings of guilt for spending one of my precious research days seeing the sights was assuaged a bit when I came upon a statue of Adam Smith outside St. Giles Cathedral. It seemed oddly appropriate that Smith should be standing over such a display of capitalism at work, although the people leaning against his statue and the seagull droppings on his head detracted from the effect somewhat. Exhaustion set it, and I postponed the visit to Edinburgh Castle I had contemplated for another day. Binge watching episodes of Poldark, which is not available on Netflix in Canada, was some consolation, and felt vaguely relevant to my work.

Day 3: The Centre for Research Collections

Jet lag set in on my third day in a way I’ve never experienced before, so today was less productive than I’d hoped. I did manage to find the University of Edinburgh’s main library (after getting rather lost–my ability to navigate is one of the first things to go when I’m tired, apparently) and register as a visiting researcher. The afternoon being already well underway, I popped up to the CRC to have a look around and, when the very helpful staff offered to find a book or two for me to look at, happily sat down with Smith’s copy of Thomas Gray’s Poems (1768) and Henry Mackenzie’s Man of the World (1783). I was disappointed not to find any annotations or other marginalia, but reading Smith’s copy of Gray was thrilling nonetheless. I wish it were possible to capture the experience of reading. Digital facsimiles are wonderful, of course, but they cannot capture the smell of the book, the feel of the paper, or the weight of the object in your hand. I have some ideas for a digital exhibition of the materials I’m looking at, but need to consult the CRC librarians about publishing such things online.