Adam Smith and Lady Janet Anstruther?

Who was the “lady of Fife” mentioned in my previous post and in Colbert’s letter dated 18 September 1766? Alain Alcouffe and Andrew Moore (2018, 15 n.18) identify this possible love interest as Lady Janet Anstruther (b. 1725, d. 1802), who “was renowned for her beauty and for her reputation as a flirt” and whose portrait is pictured below. Additionally, the second edition of Dugald Stewart’s biographical essay “An Account of the Life and Writings of Adam Smith” contains the following enigmatic endnote (Stewart, 1980/1811, pp. 349–350, emphasis added):

“In the early part of Mr Smith’s life it is well known to his friends, that he was for several years attached to a young lady of great beauty and accomplishment. How far his addresses were favourably received, or what the circumstances were which prevented their union, I have not been able to learn; but I believe it is pretty certain that, after this disappointment, he laid aside all thoughts of marriage. The lady to whom I allude died also unmarried. She survived Mr Smith for a considerable number of years, and was alive long after the publication of the first edition of this Memoir. I had the pleasure of seeing her when she was turned of eighty, and when she still retained evident traces of her former beauty. The powers of her understanding and the gaiety of her temper seemed to have suffered nothing from the hand of time.”

What are we to make of this passage? For his part, Ian Simpson Ross (2010, p. 227) describes this early love interest as “a Fife lady whom he [Smith] had loved very much,” but neither Ross nor Stewart provides any additional evidence about the geographical location of this love affair; nor do they identify this woman by name. Nevertheless, if this love affair occurred in the Kirkcaldy of Smith’s youth, a small parish located in the burgh of Fife, it should not be impossible to identify the lady. (At the time of Smith’s birth in 1723, Kirkcaldy had a population of 1,500. See, e.g., Heilbroner (1999), p. 46.)

So, was this “young lady of great beauty and accomplishment” in Stewart’s endnote Lady Janet Anstruther, as alleged by Alain Alcouffe and Andrew Moore in their 2018 paper? Was she the same “lady of Fife” referred to in Colbert’s 1766 letter? Whoever she was, Dugald Stewart is a credible witness to an attachment “well known” to Smith’s friends, since Stewart personally knew Smith and many of Smith’s acquaintances. Also, to give the reader some idea of Stewart’s stature and sterling reputation, he co-founded the Royal Society of Edinburgh in 1783 and held the chair of moral philosophy at the University of Edinburgh for thirty-five years, from 1785 until 1820. Why would Stewart risk sullying his own reputation (and that of his friend Smith) by reporting mere gossip or an unfounded rumor?

I will present one last piece of evidence of Adam Smith’s love life in my next post …

Lady Anstruther', Sir Joshua Reynolds, 1761 | Tate

Artist Credit and Works Cited

Artist of the Portrait of Lady Janet Anstruther: Sir Joshua Reynolds.

Alain Alcouffe and Andrew Moore, “Smith’s Networks in Occitania—March 1764–October 1765,” presented at the 31st Annual Conference of Eighteenth-Century Scottish Studies Society (Glasgow) (July 17–21, 2018).

Robert L. Heilbroner, The Worldly Philosophers: The Lives, Times, and Ideas of Great Economic Thinkers, 7th rev. ed., Touchstone (1999).

Ian Simpson Ross, The Life of Adam Smith, 2nd ed., Oxford University Press (2010).

Dugald Stewart, Account of the Life and Writings of Adam Smith, LL.D., in Ian Simpson Ross, editor, Essays on Philosophical Subjects, pp. 269–351, Oxford University Press (1980 [1811]).

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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