Adam Smith’s Lost Diary

Here is another extended excerpt from my forthcoming research article “Adam Smith in Love“:

“Is there any evidence of an amorous nature in Adam Smith’s voluminous correspondence or his unpublished work? Specifically, what are we to make of Adam Smith’s long lost Paris diary and of his testamentary instructions to destroy his private papers? Did Adam Smith have something to hide, and does that something include evidence of any love affairs? According to one scholar of Adam Smith (W. R. Scott, 1940), Adam Smith may have kept a travel diary during his extended sojourn in France in the mid-1760s. (See also Ross, 2010, p. 248, n.2, and Rasmussen, 2017, p. 286, n.61.) In an unfinished appendix to his comprehensive survey article titled ‘Studies Relating to Adam Smith during the Last Fifty Years,’ W. R. Scott specifically refers to the existence of this lost diary. According to Scott, Smith’s Paris diary was sold in the 1920s to an unknown buyer from an Edinburgh bookshop owned by one Mr Orr:

Contrary to the report of Dugald Stewart, Mr. Orr, a bookseller of George Street, Edinburgh, maintained that Adam Smith did keep a diary when he was in France, and that he had had it in his possession and had sold it for cash to an unknown customer who was believed to be from one of the Dominions, or perhaps from the United States.
(W. R. Scott, 1940, App. II, p. 273)

“Although Scott’s report of a lost diary sounds like second-hand hearsay, Professor Scott ‘succeeded in tracing the member of the firm who made the actual sale.’ Although this employee ‘was clear as to the foregoing particulars‘–i.e. that Mr Orr’s bookshop had a copy of Smith’s travel diary and had sold it for cash to an unknown buyer–, the employee ‘was doubtful about the date of the transaction. In 1935 he thought it was over ten years earlier, and last year [1939] he put it back to “nearly twenty years ago”.‘ Professor Scott further speculates as the identity of this unknown buyer (1940, pp. 273-274): ‘It may be guessed that the purchaser cannot have been an economist, else he would surely have printed extracts from a manuscript of such interest. It may be he was a collector of autographs, in which case the tracing of the diary must be largely a matter of chance.’ Lastly, Scott concludes (p. 274): ‘Yet, until this diary is found and it conforms to the description of it, the portion of such a biography dealing with the time Adam Smith spent in France would be in danger of being incomplete.

“How did this long lost diary end up in an Edinburgh bookshop, who was its mysterious buyer, and where is it located today? Suffice it to say that tracking down this secret diary should be our utmost priority, for it might shed light on the nature of Smith’s mysterious love interest during his 1766 visit to Abbeville.”

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About F. E. Guerra-Pujol

When I’m not blogging, I am a business law professor at the University of Central Florida.
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2 Responses to Adam Smith’s Lost Diary

  1. Pingback: Adam Smith’s Lost Loves (Part 3) | prior probability

  2. Pingback: Adam Smith’s Lost Loves (Part 3) | prior probability

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