TOMORROW sees the 300th anniversary of the birth of Adam Smith, one of Scotland’s greatest thinkers most usually accredited with being the father of modern economics due to his authorship of the hugely influential book An Inquiry Into The Nature And Causes Of The Wealth Of Nations, usually just known by the latter four words.

There are a considerable number of events, lectures and conferences happening this year to mark Smith’s tercentenary and rightly so. He was one of the greatest products of the Scottish Enlightenment and in Tuesday’s National I will attempt to show just how influential Smith became and why all Scots should at least be aware of him and what he achieved on a global scale.

The National: Adam Smith thought his Oxford college had a lot to learn from Glasgow University's system

Today, I will concentrate solely on the facts of his life, which began in Kirkcaldy in Fife on June 5, 1723, though that was the date of his baptism in Kirkcaldy Kirk and he was actually born days earlier – June 5 is always taken as his birthdate. He was born into a well-to-do family, his father Adam being a solicitor and comptroller of customs for the Kirkcaldy area.

His mother, Margaret nee Douglas, was the daughter of a Fife landowner and was Adam Smith senior’s second wife. She was pregnant with Adam junior when her husband died, leaving his young widow to bring up her son alone – he would remain close to his mother for the rest of her life.

A strange incident occurred when Smith was about three. He was apparently playing with friends when a passing band of Romani people snatched him away. His uncle is reported to have rounded up a posse of local men and swiftly got the boy back. One theory is that it was not a kidnapping as such, it’s just that the incessantly curious Smith joined the colourful group for the day.

Smith was educated at Kirkcaldy School, now the High School, whose much later pupils include former prime minister Gordon Brown and the novelist Val McDermid. He learned to speak, read and write Latin as well as maths and history.

In 1737, at the age of 14, Smith went to Glasgow University where he studied under the great professor of moral philosophy Francis Hutcheson, one of the founders of the Enlightenment and the first man at the university to lecture in English rather than Latin.

He had a profound influence on Smith’s thinking and encouraged his pupil to study many facets of philosophy, so much so that when he graduated in 1740, Smith won a scholarship to Balliol College at Oxford University. This was the Snell Exhibition, a bequest supposed to be used for the education of future clergy of the Scottish Episcopal Church.

In an obituary of Smith it states: “By the will of John Snell his exhibitors were under bond to take Anglican orders and return to Scotland, but the penalty was not enforced in the case of Adam Smith and numerous others.”

Smith considered the standard of tuition and lecturing at Oxford to be quite inferior to that he had been exposed to in Glasgow, but he nevertheless stuck out his six years at Balliol where he largely educated himself.

He remained a lifelong sceptic about Oxford’s supposed superiority, writing in The Wealth Of Nations: “In the University of Oxford, the greater part of the public professors have, for these many years, given up altogether even the pretence of teaching.”

Teaching was his choice of profession and he began in Edinburgh in 1748, where – thanks to the influence of family friend, jurist and philosopher Lord Kames – he was able to give a series of public lectures on a range of subjects. Though not a natural orator – he considered himself to be not in the class of Hutcheson – his lectures went down well and at the age of 27, he was offered the post of Professor of Logic at Glasgow University. He soon transferred to the better-paid Chair of Moral Philosophy where he lectured in everything from theology to political economy, a field he was increasingly drawn to.

He loved his time in Glasgow and made friends with a wide range of people – from the great engineer James Watt to his fellow philosopher and greatest companion David Hume, plus many merchants who provided him with the basis for his studies of trade and industry.

Though he is always associated with economics, Smith made his breakthrough into public consciousness with a work of philosophy, The Theory Of Moral Sentiments, about which I’ll write more on Tuesday.

Though he was happy in Glasgow, he was given the original offer he couldn’t refuse and left the university in 1764 to become tutor to the young Duke of Buccleuch on a hugely increased salary of £300 plus a pension of £300 per year.

With the young duke he travelled to the continent and at Toulouse in France he started the book which would become The Wealth Of Nations. He also found time to visit the great French thinkers of the day such as Voltaire and re-acquainted himself with Hume who had become secretary to the British Embassy in Paris.

The duke’s younger brother died suddenly in France and Smith returned to London where he would later become a Fellow of the Royal Society. Moving home to Kirkcaldy, Smith dedicated himself to The Wealth Of Nations which took him more than 10 years to write. When it was published in 1776, it was not an immediate success with the reading public, but soon sold out nevertheless.

Smith, who never married, was given a sinecure in the Customs service that enabled him to keep studying and writing, preferring to edit his previous works rather than write new ones. He also helped found the Royal Society of Edinburgh.

Adam Smith contracted a serious illness while living at Panmure House in Edinburgh and died there on July 17, 1790, at the age of 67. He is buried in Canongate Kirkyard off the Royal Mile where economists often visit his monument.