For a considerable period it has appeared to me that the early history of Political Economy would be clearer if more were known of the life and the surroundings of Adam Smith. While it is true that some of the problems with which this quest began still await solution, on the other hand by a series of fortunate events so much has come to light that it appeared inadvisable to postpone publication of the chief results which have emerged.
The method of presentation involved considerable difficulties. That which has been adopted may require some explanation, more especially since it will, at the same time, provide a general outline of the treatment of the material. It might have been moulded on some of the books which occupy the attention of the Crime Club. For here, also, there were many clues to be followed. Some were altogether misleading, others promised well at first, and then petered out: while a few, after seeming to fail, in the end gave unexpected and even valuable results. Although such mechanism of investigation might have a personal interest, it would be unreasonable to expect anyone to waste time in disentangling all the involved details. Dr. James Bonar, who was good enough not only to place his unrivalled knowledge of Adam Smith and the relevant literature of the eighteenth century at my disposal, but also to read and improve the manuscript of Part I and the proofs of Parts II and III, suggested the writing of a complete life of Adam Smith. This has already been done, very excellently, by John Rae. On reflection it appeared that the time was not yet ripe for such an undertaking--and that for several reasons. Besides new information which is quite decisive, there is also much that requires a considerable amount of interpretation. Indeed, it would be difficult to find another case where the events to be recorded suffer so much from involution, so that it is often necessary to work backwards, rather than in the natural order. This is fatal to an easy, flowing narrative. When at some future date the meaning and the sequence of events as here detailed has been either established or else disproved, it should be a comparatively simple matter to tell a plain, straightforward tale. Moreover, considering how many books have appeared since Rae wrote, each of which contributes its mite of detail to the general picture, it is to be expected that during the next generation more of the same type will be issued. It is to be anticipated that a systematic enquiry in France would yield some new particulars relating to Adam Smith during the time he spent there; indeed our knowledge of this period of his life would be immensely increased if (in spite of the disclaimer of Dugald Stewart) a diary, which it is reported that he kept while he was abroad . . .