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On the Authorship oftheAbstract: AReply to John O. Nelson JeffBroome In "The Authorship of the Abstract Revisited," John O. Nelson argues for the once widely held view that Adam Smith was the author of the Abstract.1 Generally speaking, however, this view has not been seriously maintained since the 1938 reprinting of the Abstract by Keynes and Sraffa. There, in their introduction, Keynes and Sraffa argue that Adam Smith was not the author ofthe Abstract, but rather Hume was.2 The central document from which the traditional view derived its authority comes in an early letter of Hume to Hutcheson (hereafter noted as Hl). It is worth quoting the passage in full. Writes Hume to Hutcheson, My Bookseller has sent to Mr. Smith a copy ofmy book, which I hope he has receiv'd, as well as your letter. I have not yet heard what he has done with the Abstract. Perhaps you have. I have got it printed in London; but not in the Works of the Learned; there having been an Article with regard to my Book, somewhat abusive, printed in that Work, before I sent up the Abstract.3 The once widely held view argues that Adam Smith is the Mr. Smith referred toin this passage, and therefore thatAdam Smith is the author of the Abstract. The argument proceeds: Smith at the time of Hl was a pupil of Hutcheson, and it was a habit of Hutcheson to have his promising students write abstracts of standard and contemporary works. It is then assumed that Adam Smith had written the Abstract, that Hutcheson was so impressed with it that he sent a copy to Hume, and that Hume in turn was so impressed that he arranged for its immediate publication, and, as seemingly mentioned in Hl, rewarded Smith with a presentation copy ofthe first two volumes ofhis Treatise. The Keynes and Sraffa thesis argues that the Mr. Smith in Hl cannot be Adam Smith, but rather must be John Smith of Dublin, "at the Philosopher's Head on the Blind Quay" (Abstract, xxiii). Their argument hinges on the conjecture that Hume was interested in an Irish editionofthe Treatise, andtherefore, Hume isaskingHutcheson's assistance in securing John Smith's help in this endeavour (Abstract, Volume XVII Number 2 95 JEFFBROOME xxii). The removal of Adam Smith as the Mr. Smith referred to in Hl consequently seems to explode theAdam Smith authorshiphypothesis. John Nelson first argued fifteen years ago against the Keynes/Sraffa thesis,4 challenging as unlikely the claim that the Mr. Smith in Hl must be John Smith ofDublin, and in the April 1991 issue of Hume Studies he reasserts his position more forcefully, arguing instead that it is impossible that "Mr. Smith" could be John Smith. Since the Mr. Smith of Hl is not John Smith, Nelson goes on to ask "who could he be except the Adam Smith ofthe traditional theory?"5 A closer examination ofeach view, Nelson's and Keynes/Sraffa's, reveals an assumption concerning an Irish publication of the Treatise that precludes any fully coherent resolution of the issue. I shall argue that the proper conclusion tobe drawn from Hl should be that the Mr. Smith is the Dublin publisher John Smith. On this point Keynes and Sraffa are correct; but against their thesis, I shall argue that Hume's purpose in referring toJohn Smith is not to see to his publishing an Irish edition of the Treatise (volumes 1 and 2, and the soon to be published volume 3), but rather to see to his publishing an Irish edition of the Abstract, in the hope that this would help to promote sales of the already publishedvolumes 1 and 2 ofthe Treatise. Thus, Hl should not be taken to decide the authorship ofthe Abstract, as Keynes and Sraffa, as well as John Nelson, argue. If anything, deciding the authorship of the Abstract should be made from Hume's personal copy of the Abstract, annotated in Hume's own hand, which is preserved in the British Museum. We notice in Hl that Hume asks two favours. The first is meant to draw upon Hutcheson's experience in publishing. Hume merely wants to know what...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1947-9921
Print ISSN
0319-7336
Pages
pp. 95-103
Launched on MUSE
2011-01-26
Open Access
No
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