Adam Smith in France: Four Lost Loves?

Let’s resume my “Adam Smith in Paris” series by introducing an additional piece of evidence, a possible “Smoking Arrow” in the form of a private letter addressed to Smith dated 18 September 1766, a month before the end of Smith’s sojourn in Paris. Among other things, this correspondence contains the following fascinating passage (as translated in Alcouffe & Massot-Bordenave, p. 260):

“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.”

For the reasons that I discuss in my refereed paper “Adam Smith in Love“, this letter was most likely authored by Seignelay Colbert de Castlehill (b. 1735, d. 1811), a fellow Scotsman who had emigrated to France at an early age. According to John Rae (1895, p. 176), Colbert played an important role during the first part of Smith’s trip overseas as Smith’s “chief guide and friend”. In brief, Colbert became Smith’s closest friend and confidant while Smith was living in Toulouse–March 1764 to November 1765–and Colbert even travelled with Smith to Bordeaux and to other places in the South of France during this 18-month period. See generally Alcouffe & Massot-Bordenave (2020), pp. 216–217; see also Rae (1895), p. 179.

Getting down to brass tacks, who are the four women identified in Colbert’s letter: the Duchess of Anville, Madame de Boufflers, Madame Nicol, and the Lady of Fife? Also, how did Adam Smith meet these women, and what was the nature of his relationship with them, i.e. romantic or Platonic? Let’s begin with the Duchess of Anville. As it happens, Anville is a real place, a small settlement in southwestern France, but at the time of Smith’s travels (1764-66), Anville’s population probably consisted of just a few hundred souls. (See here, for example.) Did such a small village really have a duchess? If so, it should be possible to determine the identity of this noblewoman.

What about the second women mentioned in this letter, Madame de Boufflers? According to this entry in Wikipedia, Madame de Boufflers refers to a real person, the French noblewoman Marie Françoise Catherine de Beauvau-Craon (b. 1711, d. 1786), whose portrait is pictured below. Her formal title was the Marquise de Boufflers, but she was commonly known as Madame de Boufflers! Did Smith meet Madame de Boufflers in Paris or Toulouse (or somewhere else), and what was the nature of their relationship?

Next, who was Madame Nicol, the woman who, if Colbert is to be believed, apparently won Smith’s heart? My colleagues and friends Alain Alcouffe and Philippe Massot-Bordenave (2020, p. 262) have identified this potential love interest as a resident of Toulouse: “Madame Nicol, the wife of Capitoul Nicol.” Alcouffe and Massot-Bordenave also provide additional details about Madame Nicol’s husband, Jacques Nicol de Montblanc, a wealthy Anglophile Frenchman who presided over the Mont Blanc Estate in the present Croix Daurade district of Toulouse, but they do not provide any further details about Madame Nicol herself.

Lastly, who was the fourth woman in this letter — “this lady of Fife that [Smith] loved”? Whoever she was, it is worth noting that the word love in this part of the letter appears in the past tense, but how far back? Does the lady of Fife refer to the same “English lady” in Dr James Currie’s 1794 letter–the hearsay report that I mentioned in a previous post–i.e. the lady that Adam Smith was supposedly “dying for” during his visit to Abbeville in northwestern France? Or does she refer to another lost love. I shall consider the latter possibility in my next post …

Screen Shot 2021-10-10 at 10.37.47 PM

Artist Credit and Works Cited

Artist of the Portrait of Madame de Bouffler: Jean Marc Nattier.

Alain Alcouffe and Philippe Massot-Bordenave, Adam Smith in Toulouse and Occitania: The Unknown Years, Palgrave Macmillan (2020).

John Rae, Life of Adam Smith, London: Macmillan (1895).

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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