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249.: To GEORGE CHALMERS - Adam Smith, Glasgow Edition of the Works and Correspondence Vol. 6 Correspondence of Adam Smith 
Correspondence of Adam Smith, ed. E. C. Mossner and I. S. Ross, vol. VI of the Glasgow Edition of the Works and Correspondence of Adam Smith (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1987).
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To GEORGE CHALMERS1
MS., NLS 582 No. 680; HMC Laing MSS. (1925), ii. 522; Scott 294–5.
Custom–house, Edinburgh, 10 Nov. 1785
I received the honour of your very polite and obliging letter of the 3 Nov, and shall be very happy to give you every information in my power towards perfecting so very useful and comfortable a work as your estimate. The two accounts you wish for are official accounts which have been annually transmitted to the treasury in consequence of an annual order for that purpose. It is contrary to the practise of this Board to communicate accounts of this nature to any private person without a particular order or permission from a secretary of the treasury. The slightest card from Mr Rose2 either to me, if he will do me that honour, or to any other member of our Board will procure you that and any other information in our power to give without a moments delay.
The accounts of the tunnage of British shipping entered and cleared out from the ports of Scotland does not comprehend the Coast trade. The account of that trade may easily be had from the year 1779. It cannot easily be had from the year 1759.
The late reverend Mr Webster,3 of all the men I have ever known, the most skilful in Political Arithmetic,4 had made out what seemed a very accurate account of the Population of Scotland as it stood in the year 1755. He had collected the lists of births, burials and marriages in all the different Parishes in Scotland. In many of the parishes he had got the people counted accurately. In others, he had got the lists of what are called examinable persons, that is, of people who are fit to be examined before the Kirk session in the Scotch Catechism. Children of seven and eight years of age are considered as examinable persons. In several parishes he had got the ages of all the different inhabitants ascertained. He had computed the numbers in the Parishes where he had got only the lists of the Births, Burials and Marriages, by those in the Parishes which were in nearly similar circumstances and had been accurately counted. This account filled a pretty large Volume in folio. About ten years ago I had the use of this account for many months. By it the whole number of souls in Scotland amounted to little more than 1,250,000. The same Gentleman a few months before his death told me that he had stated the numbers too low; and that, upon better information, he believed they might amount to 1,500,000, according to the best of my recollection. I acknowledge, however, I cannot be very positive about the precise number mentioned in this verbal information. If he has left any papers behind him upon this subject which I can either get access to, or get any distinct account of, I shall immediately inform you. You know that I have little faith in Political Arithmetic and this story does not contribute to mend my opinion of it.5
I am very much flattered by your good opinion of my book. There is no man living whose approbation I set more value upon. I have the honour to be, with the highest respect and esteem
Sir Your most obedient and most faithful humble Servant
[1 ]George Chalmers (1742–1825), antiquary; educ. Aberdeen and Edinburgh; became a successful lawyer in Baltimore; settled in London 1775 and produced biographies and socioeconomic surveys, notably a life of Thomas Ruddiman (1794) and Caledonia: an Account of North Britain (1807–24).
[2 ]George Rose (1744–1818) government clerk, then keeper of various records; Secretary of the Board of Taxes 1777–82; Secretary to the Treasury 1782–1801; Clerk of the Parliaments 1788–d.: ‘indefatigable, methodical, and yet rapid, equal to but not above the business of the Treasury’, according to Nathaniel Wraxall (Memoirs, iii. 457, quoted in HP iii. 376).
[3 ]Dr. Alexander Webster (1707–84), Minister of the Tolbooth Kirk, Edinburgh; leader of the ‘High–flyers’ of the Church of Scotland; author of an ‘Account of the Number of People in Scotland in the year 1755’ (ed. James Gray Kyd, Scottish History Society, Edinburgh, 1952). The ‘Account’ was compiled for a pension scheme to assist the widows and children of ministers. Webster got statistical returns because of a prestige in Church affairs that was unimpaired by convivial habits earning him the title of Dr. Bonum Magnum.
[4 ]Statistics of population, trade, revenue, expenditure, etc. of a state. The OED notes as the first known use of the term, the title of Sir William Petty’s ‘Essay in Political Arithmetick, concerning the Growth of the City of London’ (1682). See also, the preface to his Political Arithmetic (1691) for what is believed to be the earliest advocacy of quantitative empirical methods in the study of social and political phenomena.
[5 ]Smith expressed the same reservation in WN IV.v.b.30, ‘Digression on the Corn Trade’: ‘I have no great faith in political arithmetick.’ A similar scepticism is the basis of Hume’s dissertation, ‘Of the Populousness of Ancient Nations’. Smith, however, had second thoughts about the implications of Webster’s revised figure; see Letter 252, last para.