Update (10/28): I made significant revisions to this part of my “Adam Smith in Love” paper.
Previously, I described three pieces of evidence regarding Adam Smith’s love life: (i) an obscure but intriguing footnote in Dugald Stewart’s 1793 biography of Smith’s life and writings (Exhibit A), (ii) a letter dated July 14, 1784 addressed to Professor Stewart (Exhibit B), and (iii) a brief anecdote by Henry Mackenzie, a prominent Scottish lawyer and writer (Exhibit C). I recently stumbled upon a fourth piece of evidence, a possible “smoking gun” consisting of a long letter dated 18 September 1766. Unlike the first few proofs we have introduced into evidence thus far, this correspondence is not only from Adam Smith’s own lifetime; it is addressed to Adam Smith himself and to his pupil, Henry Scott, the future Third Duke of Buccleuch! (At the time this contemporaneous letter was composed, Adam Smith was the Duke’s private tutor and chaperone, supervising the Duke’s Grand Tour in France from early to 1764 through the fall of 1766.) To the point, in one passage of this intimate letter, which is composed entirely in French, the author refers in jest to Adam Smith’s romantic attachments:
|“Et tu, Adam Smith, philosophe de Glasgow, heros et idole des high-broad Ladys, que fais tu, mon cher ami? Comment gouvernes tu La duchesse d’Anville et Mad. de Boufflers, ou ton coeur est il toujours epris des charms de Mad. Nicol et des apparent apparens que laches de cette autre dame de Fife, que vous aimees tant?” (Letter dated 18 September 1766, National Archives of Scotland, GD224/2040/62/3. Many additional passages from this important letter are quoted in Alcouffe & Massot-Bordenave, 2020, passim.)|
In English, this revealing “smoking gun” passage reads as follows:
|“And you, Adam Smith, Glasgow philosopher, high-broad Ladies’ hero and idol, what are you doing my dear friend? How do you govern the Duchess of Anville and Madame de Boufflers, where your heart is always in love with Madame Nicol and with the attractions as apparent as hidden of this lady of Fife that you loved.” (This is Alain Alcouffe and Philippe Massot-Bordenave’s translation. See ibid., p. 260. For slightly different translations, see Ross, 2010, p. 227; Buchan, 2006, p. 77.)|
This private passage is as close as we may have to a “smoking gun” in the case of Adam Smith’s love life. Although its tone is no doubt tongue-in-cheek, it independently corroborates Dugald Stewart’s report of Adam Smith’s first love–the mysterious “Maid of Fife”–as well as James Currie’s hearsay report of a love interest in Abbeville. (Recall that Mrs Nicol was the Englishwoman in Abbeville that Adam Smith allegedly fell deeply in love with sometime in 1776.) But who wrote this letter, and how reliable or credible is this smoking gun testimony?
Although the identity of the letter’s author is disguised under an abbreviated and jocular pseudonym–“Le Gr. Vic. Eccossois” or Le Grand Viccaire Eccossois–, scholars agree that this French-speaking “Great Scottish Vicar” was none other than Abbe Seignelay Colbert de Castle-Hill (Abbe Colbert), a fellow Scotsman and one of Adam Smith’s closest friends and confidants during his extended 18-month sojourn in the South of France. Before proceeding any further, it is worth noting here that Adam Smith lived and travelled in France from early 1764 to October of 1776. (See generally Alcouffe & Massot-Bordenave, 2020. For a detailed timeline of Adam Smith’s travels in France, see ibid., pp. xiii-xiv.) It is also worth noting that Abbe Colbert would eventually be appointed the Bishop of Rodez (ibid., pp. 63-64), but at the time of Smith’s travels in France, Colbert one of the vicars general of the diocese of Toulouse. (For a biography of Abbe Colbert and a summary of his relationship to Adam Smith, see ibid., pp. 54-66.)
Abbe Colbert’s testimony, in the form of this intimate letter, is thus credible and reliable. He became Adam Smith’s closest confidant during Smith’s travels in the South of France (March 1764 to Nov. 1765), and given the tone of his September 1766 letter, he must have become oen of Adam Smith’s closest friends. In short, Abbe Colbert got to know Adam Smith the man, not just Adam Smith the tutor and scholar. To sum up, along with the previous three pieces of proof we have examined thus far (i.e., Professor Dugald Stewart’s original obscure footnote and personal recollection of Adam Smith’s first love; Dr. James Currie’s second-hand report in his July 14, 1794 letter to Prof. Stewart; and Henry Mackenzie’s brief and incomplete 1831 anecdote, which was discovered and published by Mackenzie’s biographer, Harold W. Thompson, in the 1920s), this 1766 letter points to an inescapable conclusion: Adam Smith had fallen in love on at least two occasions during his life.