D. A. R. Forrester UNIVERSITY OF STRATHCLYDE
"WHETHER MALCOLM'S IS BEST OR OLD CHARGE & DISCHARGE"*
Abstract: In 1775 A.D. the recommendation was made that the accounts of Glas-gow College be changed from the traditional charge and discharge type of records to a double entry bookkeeping system. This touched off an academic controversy that lasted for many years and generated much bitterness among the Faculty of the College.
Public sector accounting in the 18th Century was still in most countries clearly derived from medieval practice. But important in-novations in Exchequer practice in Britain began in the 1780s. Some of these reforms were anticipated in a dispute at Glasgow College which illustrates certain themes, and the resistance innovators could encounter. In Scotland and not least in Glasgow a new liberalism flourished at the same time as the American tobacco trade brought prosperity. For the University, a period of peace and international repute ended as Adam Smith resigned his Chair in 1764. Subse-quent efforts to reform the university constitution and administration aroused donnish disputes of growing intensity.
John Anderson, Professor of Natural Philosophy, advocated the University's accounts should be kept in journal, cash book and ledger, referring to Alexander Malcolm's "Treatise of Bookkeeping or Merchants' Accounting" (1743 A.D.). Principal Leachman sup-ported the traditional stewardship accounts being maintained by the factor, Professor Morthland. A local satirist observed:
"No strife about book-keeping sharpened their range
Whether Malcolm's is best or Old Charge and Discharge:
Of which as examples of learning and wit,
Long speeches were made and huge volumes were writ.
and still as their noodles were puzzled,
They got swarms of book-keepers' clerks to unravel the knot;
When after rewarding with thanks and with plate,
They let loose on their steward a tempest of hate."1
*The author acknowledges advice generously given on earlier drafts by Profes-sors B. S. Yamey, W. E. Stone and G. A. Lee.