Madame Nicol

Here is another extended excerpt from my work-in-progress “Love and Liberty: A Short History of Adam Smith in Love.”

… I also conjecture that Doctor Smith may have fallen in love a second time at some point during his three-year Grand Tour of Europe (February 1764 to October 1766).[1] As we shall soon see below (in Part 3 of this paper), two separate primary sources name a “Mrs Nicol” as a possible love interest during Adam Smith’s travels in France–in particular, during his sojourn in Abbeville in 1766. In their most recent work Adam Smith in Toulouse and Occitania, Alain Alcouffe and Philippe Massot-Bordenave (2020, p. 262) have identified this Mrs Nicol as a resident of Toulouse: “Madame Nicole, the wife of Capitoul Nicol.”[2] Was this the same “Mrs Nicol” Adam Smith fell in love with in Abbeville in 1766? Is it possible that Adam Smith had already fallen in love with her during his 18-month stay in Toulouse?

During his travels in France, Adam Smith was the private tutor of Henry Scott, the future Third Duke of Buccleuch. They arrived in Toulouse in March of 1764, travelled across the South of France during the summer and autumn of 1764, and returned to Toulouse a second time in January of 1765.[3] At some point upon his return to Toulouse, Smith wrote a letter to Charles Townsend, Henry Scott’s stepfather and the man who was financing Smith and Scott’s Grand Tour, requesting permission to relocate to Paris.[4] Simply put, was Smith hoping to leave Toulouse to avoid public scrutiny or to arrange a rendezvous with his beau Mrs Nicol, away from Nicol’s husband?

Charles Townsend granted Smith’s request in a letter dated April 22, 1765,[5] but two points are worth noting. One is that, in his April 22 letter, Charles Townsend warns his stepson “against any female attachment.” (Ibid.) Could this warning have been meant for Adam Smith? The other point is that Adam Smith was in no hurry to leave Toulouse, after all! (See Alcouffe & Massot-Bordenave, 2020, p. 285.) Why? Did Adam Smith have a change of heart, preferring to remain in proximity to Madame Nicol for as long as possible? Whatever his reasons, Smith and his pupils did not leave the South of France until the month of October of 1765.[6]            

What is the evidence in support of my conjectures? Broadly speaking, in legal matters the party that makes a claim is the one who carries the burden of proof as to the probable truth of that claim.[7] In criminal cases this burden is imposed on the prosecution, and this burden is a heavy one: the asserted claim must be true “beyond a reasonable doubt.”[8] Civil matters, by contrast, rely on a much lower preponderance standard of proof: it must be “more likely than not” that the asserted claim or defense is true.[9] In the case of Doctor Adam Smith, the evidence presented below will point to the existence of at least two lost loves: one from the Scotland of his youth, a remote time in which people’s love lives were strictly monitored by Church elders; the other from the land of romantic love and secret rendezvous, the France of Louis XV, literary salons, and promenades.

Toulouse. Mémoire d'un capitoul -

[1] As an aside, the sexual aspect of European Grand Tours by British aristocrats during this era has gone mostly unnoticed. But see Black, 1983, p. 413; see also Alcouffe & Massot-Bordenave, 2020, pp. 57-58.

[2] Although Alcouffe & Massot-Bordenave (2020), provide additional details about Madame Nicol’s husband, who was a wealthy Anglophile Frenchman who presided over the Mont Blanc Estate in the present Croix Daurade district of Toulouse, they do not provide any further details about Madame Nicol.

[3] See timeline in ibid., p. xiii-xiv; see also ibid., chapters 4 and 5.

[4] According to Alcouffe & Massot-Bordenave, 2020, p. 283, it was Smith–not his pupil Henry Scott–who wanted to relocate from Toulouse to Paris. lcouffe & Massot-Bordenave even speculate that Smith was becoming “impatient.” Ibid.

[5] The entire letter is reprinted in Alcouffe & Massot-Bordenave, 2020, pp. 284-285; see also Ross, 1974, pp. 181-182.

[6] See timeline in Alcouffe & Massot-Bordenave, 2020, pp. xiii-xiv.

[7] See generally James, 1961; see also Pardo & Allen, 2008.

[8] Pardo & Allen, p. 238.

[9] Pardo & Allen, ibid.; James, 1961, p. 53.

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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1 Response to Madame Nicol

  1. Pingback: Compilation of my most recent Adam Smith blog posts | prior probability

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