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Is there any evidence of an amorous nature in Adam Smith’s voluminous correspondence or his unpublished work? It has been reported that Smith brought back no less than three trunks of documents from his travels in France,[1] so did Smith or his pupil keep a travel diary during their extended stay in France?[2] Also, what are we to make of Smith’s express testamentary instructions to destroy his private papers and correspondence? Did Adam Smith have something to hide, and does that something include evidence of any love affairs?

According to Professor William Robert Scott (b. 1968, d. 1940), a distinguished Adam Smith scholar,[3] Doctor Smith or his pupil Henry Scott (or both?) may have kept a travel diary during their extended travels in the South of France and Paris in the mid-1760s.[4] In an unfinished appendix to his comprehensive survey article “Studies Relating to Adam Smith during the Last Fifty Years,” Professor W. R. Scott specifically refers to the existence of this lost diary.[5] According to Scott,[6] 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 this report of a lost diary sounds like second-hand hearsay, Professor Scott was able to track down the employee “who made the actual sale.” (Ibid.) Furthermore (emphasis added), 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. Alas, Scott reports 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’.”[7]

Scott further speculates about the identity of this unknown buyer (1940, pp. 273-274, emphasis added): “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 (ibid., p. 274, emphasis added): “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 travel 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 long lost 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.[8]

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[1] Ibid, p. 204.

[2] According to Jeremy Black (1981, p. 657), the custom of “keeping a travel diary of some form” among the British during their Grand Tours of Europe was “relatively widespread.”

[3] W. R. Scott, the Professor of Political Economy at the University of Glasgow, was a prolific writer and an authority on the life and works of Adam Smith. (Cf. Coase, 1993, p. 355. See also Biography of William Robert Scott, n.d.) Given these impeccable credentials and record of scholarship, W. R. Scott is a credible source of information.

[4] See Scott, 1940, App. II, p. 273. See also Ross, 2010, p. 248, n.2, and Rasmussen, 2017, p. 286, n.61.

[5] See generally Scott, 1940.

[6] Ibid., App. II, p. 273.

[7] Ibid. As an aside, according to A. L. Macfie (in Scott, 1940, p. 249), the editor of W. R. Scott’s last Adam Smith paper (Scott, 1940), “Professor Scott was at work on this article when his last illness overtook him.”

[8] Cf. Scott, 1940, App. II, p. 273: “No doubt here hypothesis is added to hypothesis, but the possibility [of locating the lost papers and missing manuscripts of Adam Smith] is of very great interest, and … there remain opportunities, even at this late date, for remedying the present meagre knowledge of Adam Smith’s life.”

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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3 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

  3. Pingback: Adam Smith in Love: The Lost Letters | prior probability

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