Note: This blog post is from my most recent work-in-progress “A Short History of Adam Smith in Love.”
The earliest published account of Adam Smith’s love life appears in Smith’s first biography, which was written by his academic colleague and friend Dugald Stewart (b. 1753, d. 1828), a noted Scottish philosopher and mathematician in his own right, shortly after Smith’s death in 1790. More specifically, this intriguing account appears in an obscure footnote in Professor Dugald Stewart’s 1793/1794 biography of Adam Smith, which he read to the Royal Society of Edinburgh in January of 1793 and which he subsequently published in 1794. Below the fold is Professor Stewart’s full report of Adam Smith’s love life:
|“In the early part of Mr Smith’s life it is well known to his friends, that he was for several years attached to a young lady of great beauty and accomplishment. How far his addresses were favourably received, or what the circumstances were which prevented their union, I have not been able to learn; but I believe it is pretty certain that, after this disappointment, he laid aside all thoughts of marriage. The lady to whom I allude died also unmarried. She survived Mr Smith for a considerable number of years, and was alive long after the publication of the first edition of this Memoir. I had the pleasure of seeing her when she was turned of eighty, and when she still retained evident traces of her former beauty. The powers of her understanding and the gaiety of her temper seemed to have suffered nothing from the hand of time.”|
As an aside, Ian Simpson Ross (2010, p. 227), who wrote a comprehensive biography of Adam Smith, further identifies this early love as “a Fife lady whom he [Smith] had loved very much,” but neither Ross nor Stewart identify this mysterious woman by name. In any case, although this account of Adam Smith’s first love is buried in a footnote, Professor Stewart is no doubt a credible witness. Given that he was a Scottish philosopher and mathematician and was a prominent public intellectual in his own right, why would he risk sullying his own reputation by reporting an unfounded rumor? To give you some idea of Stewart’s stature and sterling repuation, he co-founded–along with Henry Mackenzie, a Scottish lawyer, novelist, and writer whom we shall re-encounter soon–the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 1783 and held the chair of moral philosophy at the University of Edinburgh for twenty-five years, from 1785 until 1820.